Some mothers, such as those of premature babies or adopted infants, may be interested in human milk but unable to nurse their baby. For these mothers, a growing network of milk banks is springing up across the nation to help meet the need of these mothers and babies.
The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) supports breastfeeding for all infants, including premature or low-birth weight babies. In 2012 the Academy furthered their policy on breastfeeding, noting that if at-risk babies couldn’t receive milk from their mother, donated milk was the best alternative.
According to a recent HealthDay article, the number of milk banks across the US and Canada is expected to reach 22 by the end of 2014. Five milk banks are slated to open this year, and four opened in 2013.
The “boom” in milk bank comes as the medical community is better understanding the importance of breast milk to infants, particularly those who are at-risk. According to one milk bank, The Human Milk Banking Association of North American, infants in NICU units are the recipients of most of their donated milk. The Association though is aiming for the day where their supply of donated milk can fulfill all babies in need.
Breast milk protects infants from a slew of trouble both in infancy and later on in life. The AAP notes that breast milk helps protect babies against:
- Diarrhea and urinary tract infections
- Respiratory and Ear Infections
- Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes
- Childhood obesity
- Lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkin’s disease
Milk banks are a safer alternative to using others’ breast milk than milk sharing sites. In a milk-sharing site, women with extra breast milk connect individually with women who are looking for a supply of breast milk. While these sites may be handy, they lack safety precautions; a recent study found that nearly 75% of 101 breast milk samples collected through a milk-sharing website contained bacteria that could potentially make a baby sick.
Milk banks, on the other hand, have careful guidelines in place in order to protect the babies for whom the milk is purchased:
- Donating mothers must be screened for infectious diseases, including hepatitis B and HIV, before donating
- Donors must have clearance from their doctor and from their child’s pediatrician before donating
- All collected milk is pasteurized
The stringent “food safety” protocols that milk banks use help ensure that a baby’s milk supply will be nothing but nurturing. Medical research has shown that donated breast milk is just as nurturing as a mother’s milk. While the milk banks that supply this milk are thriving, their demand is higher than their supply, and they’re always looking for women who are able to donate in order to meet the demand for human milk.
The doctors and nurse midwives at Northern Florida’s All About Women support a woman’s choice to breastfeed. You can learn more about breastfeeding, as well other women’s health issues, by visiting our Knowledge Center.