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Got Breast Milk? Wanna share?

July 10, 2013

We’ve heard doctors say it over and over again: “Breast is Best!” for babies. A mother’s breast milk provides the most complete nutritional support for growing infants. And yet, as many new mothers are painfully aware, that’s a lot of pressure. Sometimes we make a choice whether we prefer to breastfeed or not, and sometimes that decision is made for us.

Despite a mother’s desires and best intentions, situations such as illness or inability to produce milk sometimes arise that prevent her from achieving that goal. For mothers who have a strong desire to breast feed, the inability to do so can feel like a devastating failure. And, infants who are born prematurely or with serious illnesses can receive truly life-saving benefits from breast milk. For babies who are in need and mothers who aren’t able to provide, there may be other options: milk donated by other breastfeeding mothers.

That’s exactly what actress Alicia Silverstone, whose blog promotes a vegan, eco-friendly lifestyle, suggested when she launched the Kind Mama Milk Share. She describes it as a community service where moms can connect on her blog and exchange breast milk. She writes, “If you have milk to share--post it here! If you are in need of milk--post it here!”

It sounds pretty simple. Is she on to something?

Well, not so fast.

Safety first

While a celebrity’s personal preferences may provide entertainment and even inspiration, they can’t take the place of reliable medical information. Influence doesn’t equal expertise.

Alicia’s only caution to the throngs of women flocking to her site to make a trade? “It goes without saying that common sense precautions should be taken.”

However, there are important factors to take into consideration before you exchange breast milk with a stranger and feed it to your baby.

Breast milk can carry with it the risk of transmitting infectious diseases (such as HIV), chemical contaminants and illegal or prescription drugs. Without the proper screening of donors and their milk, you could be putting your child at considerable risk.

Storage and transportation of breast milk is an important consideration as well. Improper handling can result in contamination that can be harmful to your baby.

When is donated milk a good idea?

Donated breast milk can be a life-giving offering for babies in need when it is done safely and appropriately.

Fortunately, there are human milk banks that accept milk donations from qualified donors and provide proper screening, testing, processing and distribution. Milk banks screen donors for tobacco use, alcohol use, prescription or illegal drug use as well as communicable diseases. Proper handling and storage of donated milk is also carefully managed. Once milk is received from donors, it is heat-treated in order to kill any viruses or bacteria to ensure the safety of infants who will consume it.

Donated human milk is best used for infants who have specific medical needs. Breast milk offers optimal nutrition that is easily digested, while affording a child much-needed immune protection against a variety of illnesses. Babies who are born prematurely or those who have severe allergies, immune deficiencies, digestive problems, or infectious or genetic diseases receive the most benefit from this precious resource.

What can I do if I’m interested in donating or receiving donated milk?

If you’re interested in obtaining donated milk for your child:

First, talk to your child’s doctor. Milk banks require a prescription for donated milk to ensure that the neediest of children are supplied. If your child is hospitalized, the milk bank can supply milk for your child directly to the hospital. If you’re child isn’t currently hospitalized but has ongoing medical needs, talk to your pediatrician to determine if human milk may benefit your child and his condition. If you and your child’s doctor choose to do so, you can receive donated breast milk for your child at home.

Contact the Human Milk Banking Association of America for the location nearest you for more information.

If you’re interested in donating milk to help others:

If you are one of the many mothers who feel passionately about helping children in need by providing breast milk, you can become a donor. Contact the Human Milk Banking Association of America to learn more about how you can participate.

Even if you’re not currently a lactating mother, you can still help!

Presently, there are only 11 milk banks in the nation providing this valuable resource to babies in need. However, Central Florida will soon be home to the only human milk bank in the southeastern United States. Preparations are currently under way for development of the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida, but your help is needed!

As a nonprofit organization, the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida relies on financial contributions to fund their efforts. If you’d like to participate in supporting the milk bank and their efforts to help premature and medically needy infants, check out their website for upcoming fundraising events or to make a donation.

Donated breast milk is a precious commodity for children in need. Although it shouldn’t be undertaken casually without the proper safety precautions, it can be managed in a way that is safe for all involved. And then, it can make a significant difference in the lives of little ones.