TUESDAY, April 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A wave of new
nonprofit breast milk banks are opening across North America,
driven by research that has promoted the use of donated mother's
milk for healthy babies.
Five new milk banks are expected to open this year in the United
States and Canada, joining four that opened in 2013 and bringing
the total number of nonprofit milk banks up to 22, said Kim
Updegrove, president of the Human Milk Banking Association of North
"There's an amazing resurgence of milk banks in North America,"
Updegrove said. "Every healthy lactating mother has the ability to
save another baby's life if she is willing to go through a
screening process and donate her milk through a nonprofit milk
She said breast milk contains important nutrients, immune-system
antibodies and growth factors that all contribute to a baby's
health, particularly babies who are vulnerable because they are
premature or underweight.
"It's now irrefutable that in absence of mom's own milk, donor
milk increases survival rate and improves development of vulnerable
infants," she said.
The milk banks are proliferating in response to mounting medical
research that has shown donated breast milk can nurture babies just
as well as their mother's own milk, Updegrove said.
Pediatricians hope that mothers will see the milk banks as a
better, safer alternative to the growing practice of online breast
milk sharing, said Dr. Susan Landers, a neonatologist in Austin,
Texas, who sits on the American Academy of Pediatrics' section on
Breast milk banks screen all donors, running tests to make sure
they are not carrying an infectious disease that could be passed on
through their milk, Landers said. In addition, the collected milk
is pasteurized before being frozen and passed out to hospitals and
families on a doctor's prescription.
Updegrove's group acts as a professional organization for the
network of milk banks, laying out guidelines and certifying new
banks as they come online.
"The AAP likes that set up," Landers said. "We like the milk to
be pasteurized. We want the donor mothers to be screened. We want
doctors to know it's a sterile product and prescribe it when donor
milk is needed."
By comparison, there are no safety precautions in place for milk
shared through online sites. A recent study found that nearly
three-quarters of 101 breast milk samples purchased through a
milk-sharing website contained bacteria that could make a baby sick
-- including three batches that tested positive for salmonella.
Women who buy milk from these websites "don't know who's got
hepatitis B and who's HIV-positive and who's got germs in their
milk, and none of it's pasteurized," Landers said. The AAP is
weighing a policy statement that would discourage mothers from
participating in these online swapping sites.
The idea of breast milk banking is not a new one. Back in the
early 1980s, a network of 30 milk banks stretched across the United
States, with another 20 in Canada.
But the HIV/AIDS health crisis of the 1980s, along with a surge
in hepatitis cases, led to the shuttering of nearly all the breast
milk banks, Updegrove said. At the lowest point, only one breast
milk bank -- in San Jose, Calif. -- remained open.
Breast milk banks began to reestablish themselves in North
America as the value of human milk for struggling infants became
more apparent and new protocols were established to ensure the
safety of banked milk, she said.
These efforts were sent into overdrive by a 2012 policy
statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics supporting the
use of donor milk for at-risk newborns.
Before that policy, the AAP had said that all premature babies
should be fed their own mother's milk.
But the new policy broadened that recommendation, saying that
when mother's milk is not available, then premature and
low-birth-weight babies should be fed donated breast milk. "That
was a big difference," Landers said.
One of the nation's newest nonprofit milk banks, the Northwest
Mothers Milk Bank in Portland, Ore., has succeeded well beyond its
expectations since it opened in July 2013.
Organizers had projected that they would screen 40 mothers to
become milk donors by the end of 2013, executive director Lesley
Mondeaux said. They ended up screening 122 donors in that time, and
another 79 so far this year.
One of the milk bank's donors, Dr. Emily Puterbaugh, volunteered
because she's a pediatrician who had seen the benefits of breast
milk for struggling babies.
"I had an oversupply," said Puterbaugh, 33, of Portland's
Multnomah Village area. "Realizing I was going to have more milk
than I needed for my baby, the first thing I thought of was the
milk bank. I figured some of this milk could be used for other
babies in need."
Becoming a volunteer donor wasn't simple. Puterbaugh had to fill
out an extensive medical history for herself and her 6-month-old
daughter, Nina, and get both her doctor and Nina's pediatrician to
sign off on her capability to donate. She also underwent a blood
screening to check for infectious diseases.
Part of the challenge the new milk banks face is getting the
word out to mothers, Updegrove said.
"I meet people almost weekly who say, 'I wish I knew about the
milk banks because I ended up throwing out a gallon of milk,'" she
said. "I long to hear milk banking has become as common as blood
banking, where everybody knows about it."
Another problem is money. Although the breast milk is donated,
the banks rack up expenses as they screen donors, operate milk
drops, process the milk and ship it to hospitals and families.
The Northwest Mothers Milk Bank currently charges $4.50 an ounce
for breast milk to break even, although it has a charitable care
program to help families who can't afford the fee, Mondeaux
More often than not, Medicaid programs and private health
insurance companies won't cover the cost of breast milk,
neonatologist Landers said.
"We're not where we need to be in paying for something that we
know has definitive benefits," she said. "Why aren't we paying for
something we know is extremely beneficial? Why are we making the
hospitals eat the cost?"
For more about breast milk banking, visit the
Human Milk Banking
Association of North America.