Across North America, milk banks are in urgent need for donors amid a major breastmilk shortage. All 31 milk banks associated with the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) have seen a notable decline in breastmilk donations, with some locations are down as much as 20%.

“​​Demand has been surging in hospitals, primarily,” Lindsay Groff, the executive director for HMBANA, tells The Guardian. “At the same time, supply has dipped.”

On Thursday, HMBANA issued a public plea due to the shortage.

"In efforts to meet the increasing demand for donor milk, coupled with a decline in milk donations, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) and its member milk banks across the United States and Canada are urging healthy, lactating people to consider donating to their local milk bank today. Doing so is essential to maintaining the stability of the donor milk supply, which ensures life-saving medical treatments for high-risk infants."

It seems breastmilk is yet another life-sustaining item facing challenges due to the pandemic, dangerous winter weather and the supply chain. Additionally, HMBANA says milk banks everywhere are seeing a decline in donor turnout, milk drives cancellations, and staffing shortages.

"Thus, the need for donor milk remains constant," the statement continues. "Supply must constantly be replenished. Milk can take several days to be tested, processed, and made available for infants in need. Current supply is being used almost as quickly as it becomes available. Milk donations are needed now to continue saving the most vulnerable babies’ lives."

Donated breastmilk does indeed help infants who are medically fragile overcome a range of potential health conditions. Babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) tend to thrive better if they have human milk, according to the Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin. Human milk can help protect them from infections, sepsis, retinopathy of prematurity—a major cause of blindness in preterm babies.

Groff tells The Guardian that there wasn't a breastmilk shortage at the beginning of the pandemic—far from it, in fact. She says there was an "almost unprecedented" level of donations, as more parents were working from home and able to easily nurse their children and build their supply.

“Supply has also dipped because people are going back to work," she says. "There’s a tremendous amount of stress."

The lack of breastfeeding-friendly workplaces also surely impacts the supply of available breastmilk. While 81% of U.S. babies start out being breastfed, only 22% are still exclusively breastfed six months later. While the Affordable Care Act makes it a matter of law for companies to provide an exclusive, clean, safe space for working parents to pump, many companies still don't accommodate the schedule and demands of lactating parents.

Though the breastmilk shortage is affecting milk banks all across North America, Groff has some words of advice for anyone who may be in need or considering a donation.

“There’s no need to panic,” Groff said. But if healthy, lactating people “feel compelled to help someone [by donating breast milk]—now is the time. Now, now, now, we need help now.”

If you're interested in contributing to the breastmilk donation process, contact the milk bank closest to you to find out more today.