Local hospitals doing OK with baby formula, more mothers looking to re-lactate

Bellevue Women’s Center
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Bellevue Women’s Center

Area hospitals say they have enough baby formula and one organization is seeing more women asking to learn how to re-lactate so they can breastfeed.

“Right now the supply is steady and stable,” said Philip Schwartz, the spokesperson for Ellis Hospital. “It’s something we monitor every day.”

A flight carrying 78,000 pounds of baby formula intended to ease some of the shortage in the U.S. arrived in Indianapolis from Europe Sunday,  the Associated Press reported.

Nationwide about 40% of large retail stores were out of stock, up from 31% in mid-April the AP reported last week, according to Datasembly, a data analytics firm. More than half of U.S. states are experiencing out-of-stock rates reaching 40% and 50%, according to the firm, which collects data from 11,000 locations.

Locally, on average, Bellevue Women’s Center delivers about 175 babies each month, according to Schwarz.

Of those women 60% breast feed only and another 20% to 25% rely on a combination of breastfeeding and formula to feed their infants. The center offers women assistance with various methods of breastfeeding, Schwartz said.

St. Mary’s Birthing Center at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam delivers between 30 to 40 babies a month, said Richard Hyde, the spokesperson for the hospital.

“We are constantly communicating with our formula suppliers to ensure we have formula for those that choose that feeding method or may be unable to breastfeed,” Hyde said “To date, St. Mary’s has been able to supply all moms that choose or need to use formula.”

St. Mary’s Healthcare does give formula out to new moms based on patient needs that are discussed throughout their stay at the St. Mary’s Birthing Center. 

“We will always provide formula as some mothers may choose that feeding method or may not be able to breastfeed,” Hyde said. “We are here to support all mothers and their individual decisions when it comes to feeding their baby.”

Albany Medical Center assists about 170 women monthly in delivering babies, around 30% of them choose formula for various reasons, said Sue Ford Rajchel, the director of communications for Albany Medical Center.

“We have adequate supply,” Rajchel said. “We also have been able to continue sending parents home with a 6-pack of ready-to-feed formula.”

Saratoga Hospital in Saratoga Springs could not be reached for comment. 

Some women are turning to specialists to learn how to lactate again. However, that isn’t a likely solution for the formula shortage emergency, said Cara Banks, the leader of the Greenbush La Leche League, district adviser of La Leche League of New York and primary Leader, La Leche League USA. 

La Leche League helps mothers worldwide breastfeed through support and education, according to the League’s website. This includes women in the Capital Region, Banks said.

Banks said up until three weeks ago she had only received two inquiries regarding relactation. 

“In the last three weeks, I’ve received six inquiries,” she said. 

She receives requests from all over the state, she said but mostly from the Capital Region. She’s also seen an increase in people looking to join the league’s Facebook group, La Leche League- Inducing Lactation & Relactation.

“It’s amazing how moms are like ‘oh I didn’t realize this is possible and now that I can’t find the formula that my baby needs I’d like to try this again,’” she said.

However, relactation isn’t something typically done in an emergency situation because it can take time, Banks said.

Typically if it’s been a long time since they’ve stopped breastfeeding it takes a long time to get that milk supply back, but if it’s only been a couple of weeks then that’s great they have a very good chance of success in relactating,” she said.

She said women who were breastfeeding, switch to formula and now want to switch back don’t typically see a problem. 

“We take it on a case by case basis,” she said. “We work with the mother, the baby, based on their individual circumstances.”

For example, if a woman stopped breastfeeding because the baby had an allergy to cow’s milk protein they would recommend the mother stop ingesting cow milk products so the milk the mother makes doesn’t bother the baby.

The league is focused on meeting the mother where she’s at and providing a recommendation based on what’s best for her and the baby, she said.

On a Capital Region region breastfeeding Facebook page, she said there has been a lot of informal breast milk sharing. 

Some women who produce extra milk will donate it to a milk bank – but it can be a long process. On this page some women have offered to meet up with people to just give them the milk. 

“That’s what we’re seeing a huge uptick in,” she said. “All of these things are going to be at the parents’ own risk and we encourage them to communicate openly.” 

That, she said, could include asking the person supplying the milk health-related questions. 

But parents can also go to a local donor milk bank, such as the one in Saratoga County and sign up to get milk. 

“I don’t have figures broken out by area code or region, but I can tell you that we have seen an unprecedented number of women interested in donating their excess breast milk,” said Linda Harelick, the executive director of the New York Milk Bank in an emailed statement. “It is truly inspiring.”

Since opening in 2017 the depots in the Capital Region have provided nearly 40,000 ounces of donated milk, Harelick said.

Banks said the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that donor milk is next best if the mother’s milk is not available. 

“Looking forward I think it’s important for us to realize that this formula shortage is simply a symptom of a greater issue,” she said. 

She said anywhere from 80% to 95% of babies are breastfeeding when they leave the hospital, but that number drops to around 35% by the time the infant is 3-months old.

“The bigger question here is why do we rely on formula so much,” she said. 

She said communities have to take a look at what is happening locally and nationally to understand that decrease.

Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SB_DailyGazette.net.

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