Breast Milk Bank Shortages Prompt Concern

There's plenty of partisanship when it comes to the subject of breast milk. But one thing lactivists and formula-fans alike can agree on is that shortages at breast milk banks are bad news.

Mothers' Milk Bank in San Jose, California is seeing its supply hit a low unlike anything its director, Pauline Sakamoto, has seen in her twelve years with the bank, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Since there are only ten nonprofit milk banks in the country, that's a problem. Hospitals rely on milk donated to these banks to feed premature babies, but Sakamoto told the Chronicle that she's had to cut back on orders from hospitals lately.

Shortages like these are exactly why people throw hissy fits when men decide to drink their wives' milk for kicks like this guy.

Breast milk helps preemies fight off infection and promote growth, and it's easier on their stomachs than formula. About one in eight babies are born prematurely, and only 45 percent of them go home on breast milk. (Mothers of preemies often have a hard time keeping up their supply because their babies are kept in the NICU and often can't coordinate sucking and swallowing yet.)

Milk banks are often able to help one another out when they're faced with shortages, but several of them have recently begun having trouble meeting demands. Mothers' Milk Bank in Austin, Texas was having supply issues last July that affected a local hospital, and shortages at one in Denver were reported in August.

Kim Updegrove, head of the bank in Austin, told that increased demand of breast milk is in part a result of scientific research showing "irrefutably over the last few years that human milk-only feeding to these babies is critical.”

Plenty of moms have extra milk in their freezers they might be willing to give away in theory, but the process isn't as simple as pumping and shipping. Mothers need to be screened to ensure that the milk they're donating is healthy, in much the same way someone might be screened before donating blood (the banks do cover the costs of screening and shipping, though). And donating women cannot be taking regular medication, with a few exceptions.

There is another side to all of this. The market for breast milk, according to Wired, is actually booming. In some circles, it's called liquid gold because it costs $4 per ounce. The catch? Milk banks don't pay donors. So women with enough milk to supply families in need have to do so out of the goodness of their hearts -- or more to the point, their breasts.