Move over blood donation, a new form of donation is picking up speed. With the emergence of breast milk donation programs nationwide, lactating women now have the option of not only donating blood and blood-products, but donating their breast milk as well.
In neonatal units across the United States there are premature babies with very delicate systems that do better with human milk products than with synthetic. And just as healthy infants enjoy better growth rates and overall health with their mother’s milk, so likewise do premature babies. As medical researchers have extrapolated their findings on human milk consumption to include neonatal-bound infants, most of which were born prematurely, they have found that with the help and support of nature, in the form of breast milk, these infants grow much faster and generally enjoy a lower mortality rate that those infants going without.
While many mothers who have babies in neonatal units do not have the wherewithal to provide their infants with milk, hospitals are stepping in to fill the void. Mother’s Milk Bank, a Denver-based human milk bank, provides donor milk products to hospitals and infants throughout the nation. Neonatal unit-bound infants suffer a range of issues and illnesses that require intensive, around the clock attention by trained medical professionals. These environments are generally not conducive to the traditional mother-child bonding and breast-feeding process. As a result, many of these mothers experience problematic milk production issues and cannot produce the milk the infant needs.
In many cases, as the milk is pasteurized and scientifically processed and fortified, infants are getting a quality of milk that is, well, just what the doctor ordered. The nutritional makeup of the processed milk includes ingredients that are rich is body-fortifying protein, enzymes and calories that give the struggling infants a fighting chance.
While blood-product donation was once the only game in town, with the emergence of options in the form of breast milk programs, the hope is that people will not be scared off by an initial, and quite visceral, ick factor. Similar to blood donation, there is a screening process for potential donors. Would-be participants in the program will have their blood drawn and be asked to endure an exhaustive questionnaire. While the process is mildly rigorous, and there are those that are turned away, there is such a massive need for human milk that hospitals are encouraging all currently or soon-to-be lactating women to consider volunteering. Just as blood-drives are ubiquitous and dot the landscape so likewise, according to neonatal physicians, while on a different scale, should be drives for human-milk donation. For that to happen, they suggest, a paradigm shift in not only awareness but in inclination must take place.
The protocol seems simple enough. For the Mother’s Milk bank in Denver, donors can either go into the offices themselves or can be supplied with a specially constructed and insulated Fed-Ex shipping box together with the requisite ice-pack for over-night shipping.
As convenient and easy as the process is made to be, neonatal units throughout the country are yet in desperate need of human breast milk. While the idea of donating one’s breast milk is at first a little odd if not off-putting, when people realize that there are infants in every neonatal unit in the United States in need of some, the response may burgeon. Indeed, with the new breast milk donation programs emerging nationwide, it would appear that blood-donation is not the only game in town.
By Matthew R. Fellows
Photo By: Pedro Moura Pinheiro Flickr License