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Mother's Milk Bank of SC to sell breast milk to families amid formula shortage

Mother's Milk Bank of South Carolina

Milk Bank technician Tanya Johnson puts labels on bottles of donated breast milk after they were pasteurized so they can be stored in a freezer before being shipped off to a South Carolina hospital to help feed babies. Sarah Pack/MUSC/Provided

With its donors increasing their output recently amid the formula shortage, the Mother's Milk Bank in South Carolina is offering to sell needy families human breast milk to help tide them over.

The bank, housed at the Medical University of South Carolina but with donors statewide, has seen a 20 to 25 percent increase lately in donations and is offering to share that, said manager Lindsay Millonzi.

"With so many parents struggling during this formula shortage, we hope this will help alleviate some stress and give families another safe option in their search," she said.

Infant and baby formula were already in short supply before a major manufacturer closed a plant in Michigan in February amid questions about bacterial contamination of some formula. The crisis has worsened in recent weeks, prompting the Biden administration to take extreme measures to try and increase supply. The effort includes flying in 1.5 million 8-ounce bottles of hypoallergenic formula from overseas using Department of Defense aircraft over the weekend for distribution in the U.S, the White House announced May 22.

The administration also invoked the Defense Production Act to give two manufacturers priority on raw materials needed to increase formula production in the U.S., the White House said.

The MUSC milk bank had already received calls and emails from families "just desperate for a safe alternative," Millonzi said, and had already done limited sales. "We're just starting to do this."

A family picked up milk May 23 "and were in tears we were able to offer this option," she said.

The cost is $20 for a 4-ounce bottle.

The trend is happening across the country, said Lindsay Groff, executive director of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which accredits all 28 nonprofit banks in the United States.

"We are all hearing a major increase in demand for donor milk," she said.

Groff applauded the move by the MUSC bank to make its resources more widely available to the community.

"We are so happy that you are getting milk out to those babies who need it," she said. "Hopefully relief is coming soon."

Donors go through a "pretty rigorous" vetting process before they are allowed to provide milk, including lab testing. Donations are processed, pasteurized and then tested again "to make sure that product is safe," said Dr. Alison Chapman, medical director of the milk bank.

Since January, the bank has collected more than 55,000 ounces of donor milk, which usually goes to babies in hospitals, Millonzi said.

While she could not say how much would be available to the community, the milk bank will continue to provide it as long as the supply allows, Millonzi said. 

Families will need a prescription from their pediatrician to purchase from the bank. The cost is $20 for a 4-ounce bottle. For more information, go to scmilkbank.org or call 843-792-5415 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

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Reach Tom Corwin at 843-214-6584. Follow him on Twitter at @AUG_SciMed.