AUSTIN, Tx. — For the better part of two decades, Kim Updegrove has been on a mission trying to get breast milk to NICUs across the country in hopes of saving some of the most vulnerable infants.
Updegrove oversees Mother’s Milk Bank in Austin, Texas, a non-profit that serves 165 hospitals across 26 states. Every day, workers here are processing hundreds of ounces of donated breast milk.
It's milk that is prescribed to babies in hospitals nationwide.
"Most of us grow up knowing about blood banks, but milk banks are a secret," Updegrove explained.
Every year, an estimated 60,000 babies in the United States are born prematurely and often left fighting to survive in NICUs. Giving birth early or being separated from a newborn makes it hard for some moms to produce milk. That is where this and other milk banks come in. Each year, Mother's Milk Bank Austin distributes 850,000 ounces, which saves more than 10,000 little ones.
But there is a problem.
"Across the nation, we are experiencing a decrease in the moms applying to be milk donors," Updegrove said.
Many shelves are sitting empty here.
Because of COVID-19 and just a lack of moms knowing about the milk bank, their supply is running dangerously low, meaning in the near future, some babies who need this milk to survive might not get it.
"If we don’t get an increase in the number of milk donors, then we will have vulnerable infants not survive, and that is something we haven’t seen for years," Updegrove added.
Not all hope is lost though. New moms like Sara Muncey and Abbey Ames are doing whatever they can to help. Both gave birth in the last year and are pumping extra milk when they can to save, and eventually donate, to the breast milk bank.
"It makes me so happy I can help a mom in the NICU if I can take one thing off her plate it brings me joy," Ames said.
Donating breast milk isn’t possible for every new mom. But knowing the difference their donations are making, these new moms are trying to help spread the word about how desperate the need is.
"You want to make sure the mom is in a good space and it can be sensitive. But if you hear a friend say she has excess I for sure push it," she added.