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Amid baby formula shortage, Missouri milk donors keep the milk flowing

Mother Afsheen and young daughter Nora hug and smile at the camera.
Courtesy of Afsheen Wira
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St. Louis nursing student and breastmilk donor Afsheen Wira and her daughter Nora.

The ongoing shortage of baby formula is affecting more than just families that depend on formula to feed their kids. Some parents are turning to breastmilk when they can’t find their child’s preferred formula. An Indiana-based nonprofit called the Milk Bank saw an 89% spike in demand for milk in the past year.

The Milk Bank focuses on serving families in Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky — and Missouri donors have stepped up to the plate. Jenna Streit of the Milk Bank said the organization heard from an average of 13 Missouri milk donors every month in 2021. But in May 2022, as the formula shortage left store shelves bare and parents turning to Facebook swap groups, the group received more than 100 inquiries from Missouri moms offering their services.

One of those mothers is Afsheen Wira, a nursing student in St. Louis. Wira told St. Louis on the Air that she began stockpiling milk after she had difficulty nursing her first daughter. When her second daughter weaned off breast milk, Wira still had thousands of ounces stored in her family’s freezer.

That left Wira with a question: “If my daughter is not going to have it, how can I help other people?”

The Milk Bank has multiple “milk depot” sites in the St. Louis region. That includes Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, which hosted a milk drive in May. Wira showed there with 5,000 ounces of milk — a bounty that earned her the title of “milk donor extraordinaire” from the nonprofit.

Afsheen Wira joins St. Louis On The Air

“I had five roller coolers with me of extra milk, and they loaded everything up while I was there,” she recalled. “It was pretty cool to watch. All the nurses were surprised that it was all mine. And I was like, ‘Whatever I can do to help.’” An added bonus: It freed up room in her freezers to store ice cream.

Although pumping was often an unpleasant experience, Wira said she was glad she kept at it.

“You know, in the moment, [pumping] is absolutely awful,” she said. “I hated every single minute of it, but I was always thinking of my girls.”

With the formula shortage still unresolved, the Milk Bank’s Streit told St. Louis on the Air that milk donations are needed now more than ever. Wira hopes other moms hear the call to help.

“To anybody who's able to, store the breast milk,” she said. “And if you don't end up needing it, donate it. It's amazing that you can help as many little babies as you can.”

While the Milk Bank remains focused on supplying milk to hospitalized infants, it also provides up to 40 ounces of “bridge milk” to babies at home, without a prescription. Milk can be picked up at several St. Louis locations or shipped within 24 hours of the request.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."
Avery is the Production Assistant for "St. Louis On The Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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