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Mothers donate breast milk to help with baby formula shortage; Nevada doesn’t have milk bank

By Alexis Fernandez

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    LAS VEGAS (KVVU) — As many parents struggle to find baby formula on store shelves, some mothers are stepping up to help by donating their own breast milk.

Crystal Alpiche-Kanae, from Hawaii, and a mother of three, knows what it’s like to need breast milk.

“With my second child I got sick, and I didn’t want to give her milk that had antibiotics in it and I was blessed enough to find a donor, I truly felt the benefit of not only being a donor but being a receiver and what a blessing it was,” Alpiche-Kanae said.

She’s been donating her milk for the past five years, and she’s not alone.

“Receiving is not difficult, finding donors is difficult, so I am a part of several Facebook groups that do milk donation, and you always have mommas on there that are asking for donations,” Alpiche-Kanae said.

She said milk sharing has become a popular option, especially now due to the baby formula shortage.

“I felt like there was a greater need, everyday moms who just need it and helping to feed those babies,” Alpiche-Kanae said.

On a recent trip to Las Vegas, she met up with Gabrielle Aragon to give her three days’ worth of food.

“I have actually been looking for donations since my son was probably three months old, he was a NICU baby, I couldn’t breast feed, so to find a donor was highly important and very rare,” Aragon said.

There is a risk associated with using donated breast milk. Dr. Deepa Nagar, the medical director of the NICU at St. Rose Dominican Hospital, said it’s important to ask about a mother’s medical history.

“We know that very concerning things can pass through the breast milk including viruses like HIV, Hepatitis, CMV, those things can absolutely devastate and be very problematic to the babies, and on the other hand things like drugs, opioids, marijuana,” Dr. Nagar said

The hospital provides donated breast milk to newborns in need. The milk is typically collected first at collection sites around Las Vegas and then sent to the Mother’s Milk Bank in San Jose, California.

“We pasteurize the products, and we test it for bacteria to make sure that there is no bacterial load before we label it, freeze it, and get it ready for shipment,” Jonathan Bautista, executive director at San Jose Mother’s Milk Bank said.

Bautista said the milk bank has seen a 20% increase in demand.

60% of its milk goes to hospitals, the rest to the parents who have a prescription. The San Jose Mother’s Milk Bank charges $3.75 an ounce. It’s covered by some health insurance companies

There are currently 31 milk banks in North America, Nevada is not on the list.

Bautista said becoming a milk bank can be very rigorous.

“I haven’t heard of any groups in Nevada interested in becoming a milk bank, so anyone who is interested can reach out to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America and ask them about how that process works,” Bautista said.

If a milk bank isn’t an option, there’s always a community of moms ready to help.

“There is just such a great need out there, and if I’m able to provide something for another baby to help another baby survive, why would I not,” Alpiche-Kanae said.

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