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East Tennessee milk bank says it is in need of milk donors

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America says high demand is leading to a shortage for babies in the hospital.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Milk banks across the country are in urgent need of donors amid a breastmilk shortage.

According to the Human Milk Banking Association (HMBANA), all 31 milk banks associated with HMBANA have seen a notable decline in breastmilk donations, with some locations are down as much as 20%. 

Mother's Milk Bank Tennessee is a developing milk bank within the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. Regional Director Patricia Steimer said Knoxville is seeing a shortage too for several reasons. 

Donor milk is in high demand for babies in NICUs, newly prevalent medications being used cannot be given to babies in critical care, and a labor shortage within Knoxville's location.

Babies in the hospital and in desperate need of breast milk are seeing fewer donations. 

"Our mission is to provide milk to the most fragile babies which are in the NICUs," Steimer said. "There's a need because there are more babies coming into the NICU than there ever was."

Mothers who want to donate milk have to pass strict medication screenings. The pandemic seemingly adds an extra layer of chaos.

"The shortage actually is from our infectious process of COVID, influenza, any infection, any disease process that requires a medication," she said.

She said those on medication related to these illnesses would still be able to breastfeed their own children but premature babies in the NICU wouldn't benefit.

"You provide that immunity that you're making but in the case of a fragile baby that's under hospital care we would be screening so that those mothers would identify that they would not be able to be shared with other babies," Steimer said.

The process to donate human milk is somewhat extensive in order to assure the milk is of a certain quality.


"Register, go through testing and interview just so we have a quality of breastmilk that is being given to the most fragile babies in our NICUs," she said. 

Jade Potter, RN, IBCLC operates Milk+Honey Lactation Services in Knoxville. She said Donor milk is always in high demand for NICUs across the country.

"Typically if a person can be cleared to donate blood, they can donate breastmilk," Potter said.

Right now, Mother's Milk Bank in Knoxville is providing to Children's Hospital of East Tennessee but it's working to get more volunteers and donors so it can provide to more local hospitals and even people who request it for home needs.

"We have a labor shortage because we're all volunteers," Steimer said.

The milk bank currently has only three volunteers.

"Management of the office and the pasteurization and the lab," she said.

They need more people with a medical background who can help.

"The volunteers that we're looking for now, that we're highly recruiting now are the screeners," Steimer said.

The non-profit said without safe, natural breast milk, many premature babies could not survive. If you would like to donate or volunteer, click here.

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