Thursday, February 16, 2012

Donor Milk: What You Need to Know

Many people know that the first choice for infant feeding according to the American Academy of Pediatrics is breast milk from a baby's own mother. They also assume that if mom isn't breastfeeding, the only other option is infant formula. However, according to the AAP, infant formula is actually the third option and last resort.

Picture of an at-risk newborn from the HMBANA website.
In the AAP policy statement, "Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk," they make this recommendation:
"Banked human milk may be a suitable feeding alternative for infants whose mothers are unable or unwilling to provide their    own milk. Human milk banks in North America adhere to national guidelines for quality control of screening and testing of donors and pasteurize all milk before distribution. Fresh human milk from unscreened donors is not recommended because of the risk of transmission of infectious agents."


 Last week our IBCLC Melissa Florence spoke with a reporter from WAFF Channel 48 who wanted to do a story on human milk sharing. Many moms have extra milk that they want to make available to other moms and babies. Sometimes they will post on forums and make arrangements among themselves to share that milk. Some mothers have even resorted to buying milk from on Craig's List. The danger here is that you really can't be certain that the milk you're getting is free from toxins and viral agents that could adversely affect your baby either immediately or even later on down the road.

Melissa did her master's thesis on donor human milk banking and is endeavoring to see a milk bank established in Alabama. Why is this important? It provides the healthiest possible feeding option for Alabama's preemies and at-risk infants. It also offers a certifiably safe option for the mother who simply can't produce the milk her baby needs.

There are amazing stories about mothers who have provided milk for a close friend's baby. I know some of our readers have even helped other mothers. So this topic hits very close to home. However, as IBCLC's we have an obligation to support the highest, most professional standards. The bottom line is really safety. Careful donor screening combined with the pasteurization process ensures that the milk from a Donor Milk Bank that a mother is giving her baby is 100% safe.

There are so many things to consider when sharing breast milk. What if the mom giving you her breast milk  is a health-care worker who has unwittingly been exposed to Hepatitis? What if a mother has an active herpes lesion on her nipple as she is pumping? What if she has a diet high in dairy and your baby is allergic to the milk protein? Proper screening and pasteurization will take care of each of these scenarios.

The bottom line is this: we want the most fragile preemies and at-risk infants to receive breast milk whenever possible. And we want to make sure that breast milk is as safe as it can possibly be. Take a look at the excellent story WAFF did, and let us know what you think about this topic.

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