Recently we started a conversation within the IBCLC community about milk banking. This post is dedicated to clearing up some common milk banking misunderstandings. IBCLCs and others who support breastfeeding families can be important advocates and the issues surrounding milk banks are very relevant to your practice. A study in Brazil showed that the top reason mothers donated milk was that it was recommended by a health care professional so this is certainly an area where IBCLCs can have an impact regarding improving access to the gold standard of infant nutrition – human milk.
By Frances Jones, RN, MSN, IBCLC
Does milk keep its healthful properties when pasteurized?
There has been quite a bit of discussion about the impact of pasteurization on human milk’s “miracle” properties. Milk banks provide milk to the most fragile infants and cannot risk even the every-day types of viruses that mom’s own baby could tolerate. The Holder Pasteurization method, used by HMBANA milk banks, impacts some of the biological activity of the milk, but many of the compounds unique to human milk are retained either completely or partially. Studies show that Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) that contribute to gut development and pathogen binding are retained, and partial amounts of antibodies and antimicrobial proteins also remain. Researchers are studying other pasteurization techniques, such as ultrasonication, high-temperature short-time, and microwaving, that would allow even more of the beneficial elements to be preserved while continuing to ensure the product is free of pathogens.
Related to this issue, we are often asked about whether or not “raw” milk is better for babies. Yes –milk directly from the breast of the baby’s own mother is absolutely the best choice! Policies and practices in the United States and beyond must continue to focus on supporting and protecting women to breastfeed their own children. Every HMBANA bank supports breastfeeding as a central operating principle. Pasteurized donor human milk is the alternative after mother’s own milk.
What does it cost to process human milk and how is this cost passed on to the consumer?
Some donors confuse the milk processing charges of non-profit HMBANA milk banks with the profit-motive of for-profit pharmaceutical companies. HMBANA banks operate on very tight budgets, relying on grants and charitable donations to provide their service to families whose infants’ lives may depend on the milk. The milk processing fee charged to the family (and, in some cases, covered by their medical insurance) only partially covers a milk bank’s operating costs. Clearly, the fee for pasteurized donor milk in North America is a barrier to access for some and HMBANA leaders are working behind the scenes to shape health reform laws so all insurance companies cover this medical expense. In Brazil, where the milk banks are part of the government health services, pasteurized donor milk is dispensed via prescription at no charge to the recipient. Access to human milk is an important public health initiative and future policies and programs should reflect this.
Can families who don’t have babies in the NICU access milk from HMBANA milk banks?
While critically ill infants are the first priority for milk banks, when adequate donations are available, HMBANA banks provide for infants whose mothers are ill or deceased, toddlers with medical conditions, and even adults. Donor milk is dispensed via physician’s prescription. Last year, demand shot past supply, and as word continues to spread about the benefits of donor milk, HMBANA banks routinely experience low or empty freezers. The more regular donors HMBANA has, the better equipped they will be to meet the needs of all who could benefit from donor milk.
How can IBCLCs support families in donating to HMBANA milk banks?
Currently, there are 13 HMBANA milk banks serving all of North America and more are opening each year. The first thing you can do as someone who supports breastfeeding families is to identify which HMBANA milk bank serves your community. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact HMBANA directly. If you are fortunate enough to have a bank close to you, please direct families to contact them for information about donating. For out of town donors, nearly all HMBANA banks will provide coolers and pay the shipping costs to have milk sent overnight to the bank for processing. In an upcoming blog post, we’ll discuss the requirements for donation and interview a current donor to a HMBANA milk bank about her experience.
Frances Jones is the Coordinator of the Lactation Services and Milk Bank at British Columbia Women’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Frances has worked with breastfeeding families for over thirty years and has been running the milk bank since 2000. She is the author of the HMBANA’s Best Practice for Expressing Storing and Handling Human Milk in Hospitals Homes and Child Care Settings and has spoken at many conferences on breastfeeding and milk banking topics. Most importantly, she is the mother of five sons and grandmother of one granddaughter – all breastfed.