Sharing of breastmilk has been going on “from the earliest of ages,” Pauline Sakamoto, executive director Mother’s Milk Bank, said in USA Today. Mother’s Milk Bank, located in San Jose, California, is a non-profit organization that screens, collects, processes, and dispenses donated human milk to infants in neo-natal intensive care units (NICUs).
Donated breastmilk is collected from volunteers who have been screened for health issues. The milk is also screened for viruses and bacteria, and pasteurized, before it is shipped out. The milk is only available by prescription, and generally goes to the most fragile, preterm infants. Although the women who donate milk are not paid, the medical screening and pasteurization means it costs about $3 an ounce, plus shipping, to the recipient.
Mother’s Milk Bank is one of 12 milk banks overseen by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). About 2.18 million ounces of breast milk were distributed through HMBANA in 2011, Ms. Sakamoto told USA Today. That’s up from 1.5 million ounces in 2009 and 1.8 million ounces in 2010, she said.
As use of human milk banks skyrockets, so does more casual sharing of breastmilk, as women find each other on Facebook milk-sharing networks, USA Today reports.
A Facebook group called Human Milk 4 Human Babies has over 9,000 followers. The group has chapters in all 50 states and in over 50 countries around the world. With these more casual sharing arrangements, mothers who have milk to spare are able to connect with moms who are looking for breastmilk.
Because these arrangements don’t usually involve any kind of medical screening, Human Milk 4 Human Babies advises women to consider using a low-tech form of flash pasteurization, called “flash-heating,” that can be done on the stove-top at home.
A quick check of my closest milk-sharing group shows a huge range of reasons women might be in need of breastmilk: one mom of a 4-month-old was just diagnosed with breast cancer; another has premature twins and she isn’t yet producing enough milk to sustain them both. Some of the women offering milk are offering continual donation; others just have a random stash of milk in the freezer that they don’t need.
Years ago I met a triplet mom who had pretty much exclusively breastfed her triplets. The thing is, they hadn’t been exclusively fed from her own breasts. She nursed them plenty, but friends who were also nursing donated pumped breastmilk. Her friends also nursed her babies at regular get-togethers. This wasn’t something I did when I had twins, but I totally get it. Looking back, if I’d had a friend with extra breastmilk when my twins were babies, I’d probably have taken it. Beyond the issue of whether you believe breastmilk is better than formula, there’s the issue of formula being wicked expensive.
Here’s the closest I’ve come to milk-sharing: When my middle daughter was about 6 months old, a friend and I drove up to the Poconos for a bridal shower, with both of our infants. On the way home, an icy snow storm caught us by surprise, and after seeing a couple of flipped-over trailer trucks, we decided that pulling off the highway and finding a hotel was the way to go. Neither of us was expecting an overnight trip, but we pooled our collective stashes of diapers and wipes. At the time, I was still exclusively breastfeeding my baby; she wasn’t even on solids. My friend’s baby, a month or so older than mine, had been breast-fed initially but was then formula-fed.
We pretty quickly decided that if she ran out of formula, I’d breastfeed her baby. We ended up not needing to, but it was a huge relief to both of us that I happened to have essentially an endless supply of baby milk right there. Would it have been weird? Maybe a little bit. It’s not something I’ve been conditioned by society to feel comfortable with. But it’s not like any mom worth her salt should let a baby go hungry when she has the means — any means — of feeding that baby.
Of course, eleven years into parenting, I’ve learned a lot and lost a lot of squeamishness about all kinds of things. Milk-sharing, especially if people are open about their health issues and the milk is pasteurized, seems like a pretty awesome arrangement if it works for all involved.
Have you ever shared breastmilk? Would you? Let me know in the comments!
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto)
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