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'Breast Milk Banks' Gain in Popularity

Experts say they're safer than online milk-sharing sources
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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.

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