What Are Milk Banks? Parents Turn to Alternatives Amid Formula Shortage

As the U.S. faces a shortage of baby formula, some parents are looking to milk banks as a substitute for their children.

Milk banks help mothers donate extra breast milk to infants that need it. According to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, an organization which accredits nonprofit milk banks, a milk bank collects extra milk and then "screens, pasteurizes, and tests it, and, finally, dispenses it to premature and fragile infants in need, either in hospitals or homes."

The association's executive director told USA TODAY that given the recent shortage in baby formulas, the demand at milk banks "has more than surged."

"I would say it's through the roof with people inquiring about alternatives to formula – the phones are ringing off the hook," said Lindsay Groff, executive director of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

What are Milk Banks?
As the U.S. faces a shortage of baby formula, some parents are looking to milk banks. Above a grocery store shelf where baby formula is stocked is nearly empty in Washington, D.C., on May 11. Stefani Reynolds

Susan Urabanski, the program director at Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, told FOX 32 Chicago that her organization has been getting calls from parents whose babies have relied on speciality formulas — "not something that you would necessarily find just readily available to grocery store but something that was by prescription or something really tailor-made for that baby's needs."

"And in those situations, you can't just substitute with a different type of formula. But very often you can feed those babies human milk," Urabanski said.

In recent weeks, the nationwide shortage of baby formulas has worsened. The supply chain for the products has faced strains, and some formula products have been recalled. Mothers told Newsweek they have had to drive long distances to find formula, and rely on Facebook groups that provide updates about when the products are back in stock.

This week, New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a warning against the price gouging of baby formula amid the shortage. "Anyone who seeks to take advantage of this crisis is on notice," James said in a statement.

In recent months, several brands of baby formulas have also faced recalls over health concerns.

In February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a voluntary recall for some Similac, Alimentum and EleCare powdered formulas, which are manufactured by Abbott Nutrition.

"Feeding babies homemade formula even for a few days or weeks can have lasting effects and put them at risk of getting sick," the organization stated.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned parents against feeding babies homemade formulas, or formulas that have been watered down.

Newsweek has reached out to the American Academy of Pediatrics for comment.