'Breast Milk Banks' Gain in Popularity
Experts say they're safer than online milk-sharing sources
By Dennis Thompson
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 America.
"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 bank."
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-feeding.
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.