Sharing, donating, receiving and buying breast milk are becoming mainstream issues for mothers and birth professionals. A widespread recognition of the tremendous benefits of breast milk, as well as the availability of numerous organizations who support these issues, have made giving or receiving breast milk a more common and acceptable practice of late. Given these numerous resources, mothers wishing to donate excess breast milk or those who need breast milk to feed their own child can often become overwhelmed by information and many not know where to turn or how to go about it.
Many mothers altruistically wish to donate excess milk to genuinely help other mothers and babies. Their intentions are not for personal gain, but to give a valuable gift to others. Mothers who need to receive breast milk want the lowest cost and safest milk available for their babies. Human milk is a bodily fluid and there are certain risks involved with the exchange between a mother and a child that is not her own. Accessibility to donated breast milk is also a factor, with many organizations placing a priority on sick or premature babies and often facing chronic shortages of donated milk. So bringing these two groups of mothers together in a way that is mutually beneficial and safe is actually quite a complicated story!
There are many breast milk organizations that serve different purposes or have different goals for their services. Organizations such as, Eats on Feets, promote “community based milk sharing”. Rather than relying on milk banks to process, store and distribute milk, the individual members give and receive milk to/from other members. They promote “informed choices”, do not allow payment for milk and have outlined safety guidelines for their users. Members can quickly give or receive milk to other mothers in their community and a vast social network facilitates the exchange of information, resources and support.
The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), on the other hand, is a non-profit association with banks throughout the U.S and Canada, who screen and test potential donors, pasteurize and mix donor milk and provide the milk at a “low cost” to hospitals and parents for babies in need (usually premature babies, babies who are ill or babies with formula intolerances). The HMBANA cautions that “[t]he practice of casual sharing of milk or procuring milk from any source other than an established donor human milk bank operating under HMBANA Guidelines, or similar guidelines established in other countries, has potential risks for both the recipient and the donor or her child. HMBANA does not endorse the practice of selling or purchasing human milk, human milk components or human milk by-products.”
Another controversy surrounding breast milk donation involves the for-profit business operated by Prolacta Bioscience. Prolacta Bioscience has partnered with or opened milk banks nationwide that screen and collect breast milk donated by mothers (who do not receive compensation for donating their milk). Milk is collected by the banks, then sent to Prolacta Bioscience and is used to produce “human milk-based nutritional products” or processed as “standardized human milk formulations” and primarily sold to hospitals for use in NICUs. Parents should note that the cost for Prolacta products are significantly more than the cost of breast milk from the non-profit HMBANA milk banks. A list of milk banks associated with Prolacta can be found here.
If faced with a decision about how or where you give or receive breast milk, we hope this information helps you to better understand your options so that you can make the choice that is best for you and your baby.
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