All moms are well-known to be everyday superheroes, but it’s the select few who can use their superpowers to actually save lives. It’s those rare and envied moms of urban folklore, who boast a freezer stash of spare milk that can put their breasts to work for the good of humanity. Donor breastmilk is one of the most valuable resources in the NICU and unfortunately, it comes in limited supply. In the NICU, there are many risks that keep the staff and new parents awake at night with worry, but necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is one of the biggest dangers.
NEC, an affliction commonly characterized by an underdeveloped and immature intestinal lining, is the second most common cause of mortality in premature infants and formula feeding is one of its greatest risk factors. Only breast milk contains the unique NRG4 protein, well-known for its ability to repair the young, immature and sometimes diseased gut. In cases where mom’s milk is unavailable, donor breast milk can truly make the difference between life and death.
In its most recent policy statement on breastfeeding and human milk, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states unequivocally that “the potent benefits of human milk are such that all preterm infants should receive human milk… If mother’s own milk is unavailable despite significant lactation support, pasteurized donor milk should be used.” With the expanding mountain of research supporting the clear benefits of breastmilk, hospitals are increasingly turning to milk banks to access pasteurized milk for their fragile infants. This increasing demand, unfortunately, outweighs supply, and milk banks are always in need of donations. If you are a mom endowed with superhuman milk-making abilities and looking to put that extra liquid gold to good use, read on.
There are different types of donor milk banks, all of which serve an important purpose in ensuring fragile babies are getting the breastmilk their growing bodies need. While a few universities and teaching hospitals accept milk donations for the purpose of research, the majority of milk banks are either (1) HMBANA (the Human Milk Banking Association of North America) established milk banks or (2) affiliated and/or operated by Prolacta Bioscience. HMBANA is a non-profit organization that collects and distributes donor breastmilk to infants in need, while Prolacta Bioscience is a for-profit corporation that collects breastmilk for the manufacture of the world’s only human milk infant fortifier.
Since 1985, HMBANA has been at the forefront of donor human milk banking and sets the gold standard internationally for the collection and safe provision of pasteurized donor milk. Donors are screened and donor milk is tested, cleaned, and pasteurized before being distributed to infants in need. HMBANA milk banks provide donor breast milk to NICUs and infants in the home who may have medical conditions such as formula intolerance or feeding issues related to prematurity. When supply allows, HMBANA banks also serve healthy babies who have been adopted or are unable to receive their own mother’s milk. The demand for donor milk, however, always exceeds the supply.
In contrast, Prolacta Bioscience only serves NICUs, providing the world’s only human infant fortifier. A fortifier is a calorically dense nutrient boost used in the NICU to supplement the feedings of its premature babies. Until Prolacta, the only available fortifiers were made from cow’s milk and studies have shown that cow’s milk-based products place premature infants at an increased risk of developing respiratory infections and/or NEC. While some controversy surrounds the issue of when and if fortifiers should be used, there is no dispute that Prolacta’s Human Milk Fortifier has been a game-changer in the NICU. Unfortunately, the manufacturing pipeline is dependent upon milk donations and at this time, most NICUs still use cow’s milk-based fortifiers.
Ready to donate your spare, frozen milk? Here’s how.
Once you have identified the type of bank to whom you would like to donate, contact a specific milk bank to begin the registration process. Regardless of the milk bank, the registration process includes an initial screening, some paperwork, sign-off by your doctor and baby’s pediatrician (except in the case of loss), and a blood test. Once approved, you will be provided with instructions and shipping materials. There is no cost to you whatsoever to donate your milk and a few of the Prolacta Bioscience milk banks even pay you for your donations.
To select a HMBANA milk bank, visit https://www.hmbana.org/locations and locate the milk bank that is nearest to where you live. Give them a ring and you will begin the process by answering a few questions over the phone. If you pass muster, they will forward you some paperwork and arrange for a blood draw. Depending on your location, a lab tech will come to you or you will be asked to go to the nearest blood lab. Like Prolacta Bioscience, they try to make the process as simple as possible. Once you have completed your last donation, HMBANA will provide you with a certificate of appreciation. And in the case of loss, your baby’s name will be engraved on a memorial wall.
To donate your milk to be used in the manufacture of Prolacta’s Human Milk Fortifier, select a Prolacta Bioscience affiliated and/or operated milk bank by visiting http://www.prolacta.com/find-a-milk-bank/ and carefully read through the various milk bank descriptions. Prolacta Bioscience works with a number of milk banks, each of whom have their own motivation for assisting Prolacta Bioscience with the collection of donor milk. To entice donations, some milk banks will even pay you for the donation of your milk, provide you with a free breast pump, or make a contribution to a charity in your name.
One Prolacta Bioscience affiliated milk bank has a very special mission – the International Breast Milk Project has committed itself to supplying breast milk to the critically ill, malnourished, and abandoned infants housed in an HIV/AIDS orphanage in South Africa. When IBMP realized that they could not afford to fulfill their mission on their own, they partnered with Prolacta Bioscience. Now, 25% of the first 400,000 ounces of donor milk collected goes to the orphanage in the form of pasteurized breast milk and the other 75% goes to the manufacture of Prolacta’s Human Milk Fortifier.
The registration process is the same for all Prolacta Bioscience affiliated and/or operated milk banks. You will complete a simple online questionnaire. If cleared, you will be sent a thermometer to qualify your freezer for milk storage, asked to undergo blood testing (a lab tech comes to you), and asked to sign consent forms that allow for discussions with your doctor and baby’s pediatrician. Assuming you are approved, the milk bank will provide you with all required shipping materials, a prepaid shipping label, and a phone number for pickup. Easy.
No matter which milk bank you choose, by donating your milk, you are providing a baby in need access to the unparalleled nutrition, and life-saving qualities, of breastmilk.