COVID-19 has slowed commerce in all corners of the state. But at the Vermont Donor Milk Center in Essex Junction — a nonprofit organization opened in January — the demand for pasteurized donor breast milk is still high. Co-executive director Amy Wenger says that since mid-March, there's been an uptick in new moms seeking both the donor milk and lactation consulting services her organization offers. The center, located inside Evolution Prenatal & Family Yoga Center, has sold an average of 275 bottles of milk per month since it opened. Between March 1 and April 15, 373 bottles were sold. "There have been a lot of moms with low milk supply, more than I've seen before," said Wenger. She believes that this phenomenon is related to stress, which has been shown to affect a woman's ability to produce milk for her baby. Newborns may need supplemental milk for other reasons, including low blood sugar, inability to latch or maternal health complications.
The Donor Milk Center is open seven days a week, by appointment. In order to receive donor milk, women must have a prescription from their pediatrician. Insurance does not currently cover donor milk; the center sells it on a sliding fee scale based on a family's situation and needs. Protocols for milk pickup have changed to ensure the safety of clients: All paperwork and payment are done over the phone or online, and staff members bring milk to people's cars and occasionally make home deliveries. All lactation consulting is being done via telemedicine.
Wenger said she's also received more calls from lactating women who want to donate milk, because they're now working from home and no longer have to pump milk for their own babies or use their stockpile of frozen milk. In order to donate milk, women must complete a phone screening and arrange a blood test through Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast, the Massachusetts-based milk bank that pasteurizes milk donated to the Vermont Donor Milk Center.
Though this is a difficult time for many families, center co-executive director Rachel Foxx sees an upside of moms and dads spending more time at home with their newborns. "A little pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," said Foxx, is that "we're going to have some really connected parents who really understand how their babies operate."