The Similac Recall: Is It Time For More Milk Banks?

baby bottle

What's in the bottle: formula, or donated breastmilk?

The Similac recall has sent the Internet (or at least the parents using it) into a panic. There might be nothing scarier than suddenly finding out the food you feed your baby – for many babies, the ONLY food they get – isn’t safe.

Breastfeeding activists, of course, are taking the opportunity to generate support. Twitter is full of comments like, “No bugs in my breastmilk!”

It’s not just a chance for lactivists to score points in what some people have hideously dubbed “The Breastfeeding Wars”. There’s a practical upshot: breastfeeding moms are calling for more accessible donated milk banks. Concerns about the safety of donated human milk often block access to it for moms who can’t breastfeed. This recall demonstrates that formula isn’t always safe either.

It might really be worth putting more resources into creating safe, accessible milk banks as an alternative when mother’s milk isn’t available for a baby.

On the other hand, breastmilk can carry diseases like HIV and hepatitis. That’s a lot scarier than bug parts. The transportation and storage issues involved with accepting and distributing donated milk are huge.

I ran a de facto milk bank out of my basement this past year: several friends had babies around the same time, and two of those babes were in NICU for weeks. We wound up with the oversupply of milk these moms pumped in our chest freezer for months, occasionally distributing it to moms whose milk came in late or who were having supply issues.

That worked fine for a small network of friends, but doing it on a public scale would require safety testing, storage facilities and reams of paperwork. It’s no wonder there are so few functioning milk banks.

Still, if our culture valued breastfeeding, and the unique nourishment human milk gives to babies, more highly, we’d make the system work.

What do you think? Should more moms have access to donated milk rather than giving their babies formula? Or is it just not practical?

Photo: kathera

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