'It's critical:' WakeMed Women's Milk Bank needs donations for vulnerable babies

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Some shelves are empty, but there is still a good amount of supply in the refrigerator at the WakeMed Mother's Milk Bank.

Staffers continue processing donations in the lab. There is serious concern though, as they work, about supply and demand for vulnerable babies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Incoming donations are dwindling.

"It's critical. It's lifesaving for the babies that are staying in the NICUs. We can't have an interruption in our supply because it puts those NICU babies at risk," said Milk Bank Coordinator Montana Wagner-Gillespie.

She said nutrients in the milk make all the difference for families hoping to take their babies home.

"For NICU babies that are born extremely premature or (with) some sort of medical indication to need donor milk, they need it more than anyone else so we want to make sure that we're serving the most fragile, the most vulnerable babies throughout this time," said Wagner-Gillespie.

Just as blood banks are seeing a dip in donations, so is the Milk Bank.

Wagner-Gillespie thinks social distancing is one reason.

The center is making adjustments during the crisis. Staffers are shipping coolers directly to homes for the donations. Before, nursing moms could drop off supply to the center.

Wagner-Gillespie said she thinks another reason is fear about one requirement to donate.

Women are required to give a blood sample to make sure they're healthy, and now they can go to remote sites where COVID-19 testing is not being done.

"You can wait in your car and then you can go in and have your blood tested and go home -- to have minimal interaction with the public," Wagner-Gillespie said.

The screening can be done remotely and the paperwork filled out electronically.

Find out more about donating milk

The Milk Bank is hoping to bring its numbers up in the days and weeks ahead.

The nonprofit serves 44 NICUs across the Southeast and is one of 26 milk banks in the country with specialized accreditation.
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