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Health, Science & Tech

Pittsburgh milk bank seeks donations to avoid shortages

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Matt Rourke
/
AP

Milk banks across the U.S. report they’re running low on breast milk donations. In Pittsburgh, milk bank officials say they have more than enough milk right now, but they’re trying to get ahead of potential future shortage by recruiting new donors.

Milk banks distribute donated breast milk to hospitals and families with vulnerable babies. Breast milk helps protect babies from infections and diseases and can be particularly beneficial for premature babies, who are the main recipients of donated milk.

The Mid-Atlantic Mothers’ Milk Bank in Pittsburgh provides pasteurized donor breast milk to neonatal intensive care units and families in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.

Before the pandemic, MAMMB executive director Denise O’Connor said the milk bank was distributing up to 25,000 ounces of milk per month. There was a slight dip in demand at the start of the pandemic that some attribute to falling NICU admission rates.

“But then this year we’ve just been seeing a steady demand. We’re up 25% from this time last year,” O’Connor said.

The milk bank distributed a record high 294,334 ounces of donor milk in 2021. MAMMB began to see increased demand last summer and into the fall. Other milk banks are reporting similar needs.

“We are holding our own, but we definitely need more families to step up,” said O’Connor. “I’m not fearful in any way, shape, or form that we will not have milk for our NICUs. Absolutely not.”

It’s not clear yet what caused the spike in demand, but O’Connor said there are lots of babies being born right now. People who put off expanding their families at the start of the pandemic might be having babies now, and some of them will end up in the NICU.

“Just like anything with the pandemic, right now we won’t know that data until it comes out later,” O’Connor said.

According to O’Connor, avoiding a local milk shortage will only be possible if more people donate.

“I suspect that this increased demand is going to be sustained. And so, we are always trying to stay ten steps ahead of it.”

So far, the push has been working. Since they began publicizing the need for donations, the number of people who reached out to MAMMB to donate grew by 50%.

The increased demand has been a net positive for the milk bank so far.

“We actually feel it’s a good thing to see donor milk evolve and to have more access to families. And we know that the community is going to step up and fill that need,” O’Connor said.

More information about donating can be found here.