AUSTIN (KXAN) — More families are turning to a local nonprofit for help during the ongoing national shortage of baby formula, while at the same time the group is experiencing a generous bump in donations because of it.
The Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin reported having a “significant increase in demand” recently from parents seeking another feeding option while they struggle to find powdered baby formula at local stores. The factors fueling this shortage include a voluntary recall for several popular formula products made at an Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan coupled with supply chain issues for ingredients.
Kim Updegrove, the milk bank’s executive director, said her nonprofit reserves most of its supply for medically-vulnerable newborns at hospitals in Texas and 26 other states. However, during the last three weeks, she said she received as many as 30 extra calls per week from families with healthy children asking about receiving some of the pasteurized milk donated by mothers who passed the screening process. That number of requests has now doubled, she said.
“The family’s reaching out because they’re not able to find formula [and] need a long term solution, but in the short run, what we are able to do at the Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin is to provide a small volume of milk that can carry them over a short time period,” Updegrove explained. “For those families in this formula crisis, we’re providing that milk charitably. This is not the time to make them pay for it, and insurance won’t pay for milk for a healthy infant, so the Mother’s Milk Bank in Austin is dispensing that milk to these families free of charge.”
Additionally, she said there’s been a “sudden increase” in more women coming forward to express interest in going through the steps to become a donor. On any given week, she said the Mother’s Milk Bank hears from 10 to 20 nursing mothers wanting to send in milk. However, as word keeps spreading about families still struggling to find baby formula on store shelves, Updegrove said at least 90 women since Thursday called to express interest about going through the screening to become a milk donor.
“We’ve noted a tremendous increase, an outpouring of desire to help from these mothers with extra breast milk in their freezer or a commitment to pumping extra milk now in order to help these families,” Updegrove said.
For safety purposes, potential donors must undergo a phone screening to learn more about lifestyle, medical status, medications and any illnesses. Mothers must also get a blood test to determine they’re negative for HIV, HTLV, syphilis and hepatitis B and C. After clearing those hurdles, that’s when a donor can drop off her milk at the milk bank in Austin or at more than 40 milk collection sites in Texas. Once it’s received at the facility, the milk will undergo a week-long pasteurization process to make sure it’s safe to feed to babies.
Earlier this year, the Mother’s Milk Bank shared how it struggled to maintain enough donors to keep up a supply of breast milk donations, as that quickly dwindled through the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday afternoon, Abbott Nutrition said it reached an agreement with U.S. health officials to restart production at its largest domestic factory, a key step toward easing a nationwide shortage tied to the plant’s shutdown earlier this year. Abbott did not immediately share the terms of the agreement reached with the Food and Drug Administration, which has been investigating safety problems at the Sturgis, Michigan, facility. The consent decree is a binding legal agreement between the company and the federal government.
After production resumes, Abbott has said it will take at least eight weeks to begin shipping new product to stores.