Colorado milk bank sees uptick in donations during formula shortage

Baby Formula Shortage
David Zalubowski/AP Photo
Rebecca Heinrich, director of the Mothers’ Milk Bank, loads frozen milk donated by lactating mothers from plastic bags into bottles for distribution to babies Friday, May 13, 2022, at the foundation’s headquarters in Arvada, Colo.

The nationwide infant formula shortage has caused an increase in families seeking to purchase donated milk in Colorado according to Mother’s Milk Bank, an Arvada-based nonprofit that collects and distributes donated breast milk. 

However, the group has also seen an increase in women donating milk, and they’re looking for more volunteers. 

“We started to say, ‘Don’t forget donated milk as a resource,’” said Jodye Whitesell, communications director for Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation, which operates the bank. In response, they’ve seen “a pretty big spike in phone calls for donations.”

Mother’s Milk Bank is one of the largest of the 32 non-profit milk banks in North America and distributes across Colorado, as well as to numerous other states. The vast majority of its supplies go to neonatal ICUs, but it also serves around 30 to 40 outpatient families a week, according to Whitesell.

Colorado’s Department of Human Services is partnering with the bank to encourage donations of both milk and money to help cover the processing fee for lower-income families.

The state is also warning parents of the dangers of diluting formula or trying to make their own at home, and providing resources for places families in the WIC program may be able to turn to if they can’t find formula on store shelves.

Oversight hearing on the cause of the shortage

Next week, senior executives with the three biggest formula makers — Abbott Nutrition, Gerber Products Company, and Reckitt — will appear before a Congressional oversight committee chaired by Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette to answer questions about the shortage.

“There’s no excuse for what’s happening all across this country right now,” said DeGette in a statement announcing the hearing. “We want to know from the witnesses we hear from next week exactly what happened and how it happened; but more importantly we want to know what needs to be done to get more infant formula on the shelves as quick as possible.”

The panel will also hear from top officials at the FDA.

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration announced it will streamline the process for overseas makers of formula to import their products, if they meet U.S. safety and nutritional standards. 

The Biden Administration is also trying to increase domestic supply and has reached a deal to reopen a shuttered Michigan plant whose closure precipitated the acute shortage. However, it will take more than a month before formula from the factory reaches store shelves.

Editor's Note: This story originally mischaracterized the scope of Mother's Milk Bank's distribution to individuals and hospitals. It has been corrected.