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Baby formula shortage impacts hospitals too

Babies in the NICU often rely on donated breast milk, especially with formula shortage.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It's a nightmare scenario for many parents: you want to feed your baby, but you just can't.  The national shortage of baby formula is causing real worry among some parents who stare at empty shelves when they go to stores.

And if you think those families are in a tight spot, think about babies in the NICU. First Coast News spoke with a doctor on the front lives front lines of keeping babies alive in a time of need.

"It's breast milk, we call that golden liquid, it's breast milk, it's precious," says Dr. Rana Alissa.

For more than a decade Dr. Alissa has cared for the youngest among us at UF Health, babies.  Dr. Alissa is a published author on the topic of breast milk for newborns and when the hospital doesn't have enough formula to give a baby in the NICU, they turn to donor milk.  But that's not as easy as you might think.

"Donor milk is not something that's available as much as formula," says Dr. Alissa, "I hope one day we'll go to Walgreens and buy donor milk."

Until that day comes, UF Health uses donated breast milk that can stay up to 6 months in a freezer.  In fact, Jacksonville is one of the depots for the Milk Bank of Florida, which is based in Orlando.  But if you think receiving donated breast milk is as simple as showing up and asking, think again.

"They prioritize who gets donor milk," says Dr. Alissa, "the infant who needs donor milk needs a prescription from pediatrician in order to get that"

And it's not free, donor milk is more expensive than formula.  But babies still need to eat, and if a donor is able to provide extra milk, it could save a child's life.

"If somebody has excess of breast milk it would be amazing if this milk can be donated," says Dr. Alissa, "this comes handy in this time when there's a shortage of formula."

All milk donated to UF Health as well as the Milk Bank of Florida is tested for quality before it's given to babies.  After that, a currier distributes the donated milk to babies across the state who need it the most. 

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