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How NWMMB is Responding to Shortage of Breastmilk Substitutes (Infant formula)


Every day, Northwest Mothers Milk Bank serves hospitalized and medically fragile infants in the community. Every year, the demand for a safe source of human donor milk rises. Babies who need donor milk have diagnoses that range from extreme complications of prematurity to those whose birth parent’s milk is not fully available in the first few days of life.


Hospitals are relying on us more than ever to ensure their freezers are stocked. The volume of milk dispensed in the Pacific Northwest has increased twenty-eight percent in 2020. Seventy-five percent of donor milk from NWMMB goes to babies in the hospital, primarily in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs). Premature and fragile infants continue to be born. Making sure they have the best nutrition available is essential.



photo of a woman holding a baby in her arms while looking at her phone in her hands

In February, scattered reports of formula recall, and supply chain issues began to fill our news feeds. Families began to call the milk bank, sharing that their infant’s prescribed specialized formulas were unattainable. Babies on complicated feeding plans were being impacted more than ever. In response to this growing crisis, NWMMB began working with healthcare providers to find the best solution for temporary nutritional supplementation.


Currently, parents are calling NWMMB looking to find food for their baby. The stress of limited supply, inflation, and increasing fuel costs is overwhelming. Keeping capacity and milk availability in mind, NWMMB is working with community partners to find short-term solutions at no-cost or sliding-scale for families.Focusing on immediate rapid relief is a way that NWMMB is helping to ease anxiety and stress parents are feeling when they can’t access food for their infant. Parents seeking milk are encouraged to speak to their infant’s healthcare provider first and then contact NWMMB at 1-800-204-4444 or on our website.


The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has shared this statement, providing recommendations that support the safety and health of mothers, infants, and children until this crisis abates. To increase capacity, NWMMB and the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, have participated in a media campaign to raise awareness about the acute need for milk donors.



"I heard about the formula recalls on the news. I can’t imagine anything more stressful than not being able to provide food for my baby. That’s when I decided to donate some of my milk stash to the milk bank. "


— Tif, Gig Harbor, WA



When the news broke that the formula shortage was impacting families across the nation, our phones began to ring and requests for donor screening began to fill our inbox. NWMMB has seen a threefold increase in requests for donor screening. Our staff is working long hours to meet this heightened level of interest.


It’s heartwarming to hear stories from families who want to help make sure, the milk bank has the resources it needs to respond during a national crisis. Milk donations from approved milk donors are filling our freezers. We ask that potential donors have patience as we work through our list of those requesting a screening. The formula shortage is expected to continue for at least a few more weeks, maybe months.The need for milk donations is always on-going, and we are committed to responding to all inquiries.


Milk donors are local heroes and are not compensated for their donation. Healthy, non-smoking, lactating parents with more milk than their own baby needs are often good candidates to become a milk donor. You can learn more about milk donor requirements here at our Donate Milk page.If you do not currently have milk to give but have questions about increasing your milk supply, finding a local lactation consultant can be valuable to your success.



"Families know how precious breastmilk is and the role it plays in the health of their own baby. By completing the screening and donating their extra milk, they make a direct impact on the life of another baby. I can’t think of a better example of true community connection. "


Lesley Mondeaux, Executive Director, NWMMB



As with many organizations, supply chain issues and rising supply costs are affecting the work of nonprofit milk banks across our nation.It has been particularly challenging to find the bottles and caps needed for pasteurized milk. NWMMB has sometimes waited, up to 7 months, for standing supply orders to be filled. Having the supplies needed is critical, and our staff monitors inventory on a weekly basis. Watch a recent news clip about the impact of supply chain concerns.


As the only nonprofit milk bank in the Pacific Northwest, we couldn’t exist without the financial support from our community. Rigorous donor screening, strict milk processing standards, and third-party lab testing are just some of the safety steps used to ensure donor milk recipients receive the highest quality nutrition. Donations support these costs, as well as programs like Evie’s Fund and Rapid Relief Fund, both a part of our community care program. No parent should be prevented from providing life-saving treatment for their baby. Financial donations cover the donor milk processing fees for any family requiring financial assistance.




Another important way to support NWMMB is by being an ambassador for human milk banking. Educate your family and friends about the work we are doing to help fragile babies survive and thrive. Everyone should know about human milk banking and that nonprofit milk banks exist throughout the world.All babies deserve access to the best nutrition possible. A list of US and Canadian milk banks can be found at the Human Milk Banking of North America’s website.


Understanding and supporting local and national legislation is critically important in meeting the needs of all families, including empowering them to achieve their feeding goals.For example, a recent bill was passed in Washington state which mandates insurance coverage for donor milk for hospitalized infants who meet criteria. If a newborn baby needs breast milk to thrive, parents who cannot breastfeed deserve fair and equitable access to donor milk. Learn more about Bill 5702 here.


Ensure workplaces and public spaces visibly and actively support parents breastfeeding and/or pumping milk for their infants. Tell your Senator to pass the PUMP Act. The bill was passed by the House last year, and now we need the Senate to do their part. Visit the US Breastfeeding Committee’s legislative action page to learn more.


If you are currently pregnant, learn all you can about your feeding choices and make the best plan for your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about breastfeeding support that is available to you prenatally and postpartum.


Resources


Academy of Breastfeeding Statement on Shortage of Breastmilk Substitutes

US Breastfeeding Committee Legislative Advocacy Information

Human Milk Banking Association of North America

Information for Families Experiencing Formula Shortage

OPB: Think Out Loud 5.13.22