By PAT EATON-ROBB and MIKE CATALINI
The shortage of infant formula in the US UU. has led to an increase in interest in milk banks across the US.
It’s a pathway that won’t work for all formula-fed babies, especially those with special dietary needs, and it brings challenges because the country’s dozens of nonprofit milk banks prioritize the feeding of medically fragile babies. Organizations collect the mothers ’milk and process it, even through pasteurization, then work with hospitals to distribute it.
The shortage has led to a withdrawal of security and supply disruptions and caught national attention with terrified parents seeking to exchange and buy formulas online, and President Joe Biden urged manufacturers to increase production and discuss with retailers how they could replenish shelves for addressing regional disparities. Biden said on Friday that the European formula for babies would be on U.S. shelves “in a matter of weeks or less,” as his government tried to increase imports to address the shortage.
“There’s nothing more urgent we’re working on than that right now,” he said.
The administration also said on Friday that formula maker Abbott Laboratories has pledged to give discounts until August for a food stamp-like program that helps women, babies and children called WIC.
At Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, based in Newton, Massachusetts, increased interest in donating and receiving milk due to shortages. Typically, the milk bank receives about 30-50 calls a month from people looking to donate. On Thursday alone, 35 calls came from potential donors, said Deborah Youngblood, the bank’s chief executive.
“It’s interesting that the first kind of response we got was from potential donors, so did people respond to the shortage of formulas with a surprising, compassionate response of how I can be part of the solution?” she said.
Youngblood was talking about people like Kayla Gillespie, a mother of three, a 38-year-old from Hays, Kansas. Gillespie first donated to Mothers’ Milk Bank in Denver six years ago, giving 18 liters (68 liters) after the birth of their first child, and did not plan to do so again.
“I thought 18 gallons was enough for one person,” he said. “If I hadn’t heard of the shortage, I wouldn’t have gone through the process again, just because I have three kids and it’s a little chaotic around here.”
She promised at least 150 ounces of her milk, but said she hopes to give much more than that.
“I’m very blessed to be able to produce milk, so I felt like I needed to do something,” she said.
She said she has in the past sent her frozen milk in special containers to Denver, but this time, her local hospital is taking the donations and can drop them off.
They’re not just donors, though. Parents who are desperately looking for nutrition for their babies are also looking for milk banks.
At the Massachusetts Milk Bank, about 30 people called looking for milk because they couldn’t find their baby’s usual formula, Youngblood said. This involves almost no calls, as the milk bank usually attends hospitals.
The North American Human Milk Bank Association, an accredited non-profit milk bank accrediting organization, is seeing a “significant increase” in demand, according to Lindsay Groff, the group’s chief executive. She estimates that consultations with parents seeking to fill the gap in the formula have increased by 20% in recent days.
Groff described the shortage as a “crisis” and said it is not as simple as parents only supplementing with easy human milk, because the vast majority of those supplies are for babies with illness.
“If people can donate, now would be the time because when we have more inventory we can look beyond the medically fragile,” he said.
Dr. Lisa Stellwagen, a pediatrician at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, is the school’s milk bank executive director. She said there is probably not enough supply to meet the need for formula shortages.
“We are here to fill a short-term gap. We are here for medically fragile children, and we are here for NICU babies,” he said.
Parents are also turning to online breastfeeding forums to meet the needs of their babies.
Amanda Kastelein, a mother of three in Middlebury, Connecticut, has been supplementing the special formula she needs for 10-month-old Emerson with breast milk from a mother she found on a peer-to-peer Facebook page called Human Milk 4 Human Babies. .
Kastelein stopped breastfeeding after contracting recurrent infections, but tried to breastfeed again in March after withdrawing the formula, with little success.
“Emerson is allergic to most formulas, so it’s been hard to find something he’s not allergic to,” he said.
In staggered Hannah Breton of Naugatuck, Connecticut, who had been producing more milk than her 2-and-a-half-month-old son needed. She has been giving Kastelein about 60 ounces of milk every two weeks. This is enough to supplement your formula supply and keep Emerson powered.
“She asked a lot of questions: what medications am I taking, if any, that kind of thing,” Breton said. “So we decided, ‘Okay, that’s perfect.’ So she comes every two weeks and picks up the milk I’ve been saving for her. ‘
“I feel useful,” he added. “It’s exciting and rewarding that I can give it to a mother who can’t find what she’s looking for, and if her child can’t take formula, I mean, it’s scary.
Rebecca Heinrich, director of Mothers’ Milk Bank in Colorado, advises milk-seekers that looking for self-employed donors can be risky.
“We want to make sure these mothers are as safe as possible and meet their baby’s needs, so consulting with your doctor on how to meet those needs is the best way forward,” she said.
The shortage creates difficulties especially for low-income families after the withdrawal of formula maker Abbott, due to pollution issues. Withdrawal has exhausted many marks covered by the federal WIC program, although it now allows marks to be replaced.
On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent a letter to the head of Abbott Laboratories expressing what he called his “grave concern about the accessibility of safe infant formulas,” noting that Abbott has infant formula contracts in the federal program WIC. Vilsack has called for Abbott to continue with a program that offers rebates for alternative products, including formulas for competitive brands, which it has been doing on a monthly basis. The White House said on Friday Abbott had committed to the rebates until the end of August.
The Biden administration said it is working with states to make it easier for WIC recipients to purchase different formula sizes that their benefits may not currently cover.
Abbott said that pending the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, it could restart a manufacturing site “in two weeks.”
The company would start producing EleCare, Alimentum and metabolic formulas and then start producing Similac and other formulas. Once production begins, it would take six to eight weeks for the formula to be available on the shelves.
On Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with U.S. manufacturers to increase production and streamline paperwork to allow more imports.
Associated Press writers from across the country contributed to this report.
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