For a variety of reasons, milk sharing is making a come back. Some mothers have extenuating circumstances preventing them from breastfeeding and yet they know how much greater benefit their babies will get from human milk (see the LIST from my previous post). (1) Some have cancer and due to chemotherapy or a double mastectomy, they simply cannot breastfeed their own children. (2) Some moms are adopting babies and while they work to lactate themselves, they request other human milk during those first few weeks of life until they have a good supply. (3) Some moms have diseases such as HIV that can be passed on to baby through their own breast milk. (4) Some moms are on unavoidable medication that is very dangerous for babies and comes through their milk. (5) A small percentage of moms are born with a congenital breast abnormality that may prevent them from breastfeeding their own babies or from producing enough milk for their own babies. (6) And on some occasions, some moms are completely unavailable due to an accident or tragedy. Whatever the reason, these moms now have a healthier alternative to cow's milk or man-made formula.
Even hospitals are now heavily relying on human breast milk donations for premature babies. One of the biggest concerns of neonatologists are babies who acquire necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). NEC is a disease that attacks the intestinal lining and eventually damages or destroys it. Of the infants who get this disease, 62% will die from it. Of the premature babies who are fed formula, 10-17% will acquire NEC. Of the premature babies who are fed human breast milk, only 1.5% get NEC.
Moms who are willing to build up their supply and donate to other moms can do so in a couple different ways:
First, there's your formal human milk banks. There are currently about a dozen different milk banks around the US. These banks will pay for the donor's blood testing, freezer bags, and all shipping supplies/costs to send your donation in each month. Some milk banks will even provide the donor with a free electric pump. Milk banks collect the milk, pasteurize it (unfortunately eliminating some of the immunological benefits), and rebottle and freeze it for hospitals and families in need. Hospitals purchase the milk for premature infants in NICU and doctors can write prescriptions for parents who need milk sent to their homes. Milk banks charge $3 to $5.00 per ounce which can get extremely expensive for babies who are drinking 30 plus ounces per day. Some insurance companies fit this bill, but many do not and the parents are left to find a way to afford it or to go to formula.
The second option for families seeking real human milk is a mother to mother donation. It's done through programs like Milk Share. Donors are still often asked for blood tests and recipients supply milk freezer bags and pay all shipping costs. I recently discovered that for about 700 oz (over 5 gallons) of frozen milk it costs roughly $150-170 to ship. That's still far better than paying $2,100.00 to $4,500.00 to a milk bank for one month of pasteurized human milk. Plus, through a mother to mother donation, the milk retains most of the immunological benefits since the milk isn't pasteurized (although freezing does also reduce some of the benefits). Keep in mind that most families seeking milk for their infant end up using more than two dozen milk donors. They have to be extremely diligent to acquire the required volume of milk needed for their baby.
I'll share more on this beautiful practice as I learn more, but be sure to read these couple blog posts written by moms who are currently milk sharing. The first is Milk and Love and the second is Donating Liquid Gold (just click on the titles to see the posts). UPDATE: I just came across this Milk Share blog post written by a mom who is a grateful recipient of donated milk. These are great inside stories for someone still curious about how it actually works.
And since I always seem to run out of time before I can finish a post, I'll leave you with links to articles and more information on milk sharing. Little bub is waking up and it's time for ME to go breastfeed. Cheers!
ABC News - Baby Feeding By Mom's Friends
Austin American-Statesman - Austin Milk Bank Celebrates Breastfeeding Month
Video of a Breastfeeding Hero:
Breastfeeding Controversy: Milk Sharing
Breast-milk Donors Bottle a Little Love with Good Deed:
A Few Milk Banks (the ones I could find websites for):
Mothers' Milk Bank at Denver, CO:
Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin, TX:
Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas:
Indiana Mothers' Milk Bank:
Mothers' Milk Bank of New England (still developing):
Wakemed Mothers' Milk Bank, NC:
Mothers' Milk Bank of Iowa:
Mothers' Milk Bank at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, CA:
Mothers' Milk Bank: Christiana Care Health Systems, DE:
And don't forget MilkShare for moms whose insurance doesn't cover at-home milk for their babies: