Hey did you know that you can donate breast milk? I know right, crazy! That’s exactly what I thought when I first heard of it. The ignorance in me tooted my face up to the idea, but then I realized woman have been donating breast milk for centuries. If I look back on African American culture, many black women were employed to become wet-nurses. Before formula milk was created, many women across the globe took to nursing each other’s babies. These mothers were considered to have cross-nursed or co-nursed.
Why did mother’s donate milk?
The term wet nurse was used for a woman who breast feeds and cares for another child. Wet nurses were used if:
- The mother of the child died
- Mother is unable to produce an adequate milk supply
- Newborns were abandoned
- Mother decided not to nurse the child herself
One thing to remember is that formula milk did not always exist. So with that being said a baby’s life depended on the supply of a mothers milk. It literally was a choice between life and death. Formula milk was created years later lowering the demand for wet-nurses. However there is still a need for wet nurses, especially for mothers who understand the benefits of breastfeeding.
How can I help?
Donating milk is kind of like donating blood. You have to first find an organization to donate to in your area. I live in the DMV area, so I listed a few. Donors at these organizations have to go through a screening process, which also includes a blood test.
- Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA)
- Mother’s Milkbank at Austin, partnered with the Breastfeeding Center in Washington DC
- Washington DC
At these facilities they also pasteurize and culture the milk prior to bottling and shipping milk supply. This helps decrease the amount of bacteria and unwanted pathogens in milk.
There are other ways to donate milk. You can opt for an informal milk-sharing network.
What’ s the difference?
A milk bank has a thorough screening process and its a little more strict. Screening could consist of proof of donor being in good health, not using any illegal drugs, or drinking alcohol. You also do not get a say of who you are donating the milk to. Milk banks are a good source for preterm babies staying in the NICU. There’s a long list of the requirements. Click here for more info.
When you donate to an informal milk bank you have a wider selection of babies you can help. Informal milk banks are not required to submit to the same screening process as formal milk banks, so you have to take a good look at the risk factors. Some mothers will request that the donor be accountable to an informal agreement that would encourage the donor to submit to a blood test and fill out a questionnaire.
There is not enough research regarding this subject to determine if its better to donate/receive milk using a formal milk bank or an informal milk bank. Whatever you decide, please use evidence based research to back up your decisions. Look at the benefits and look at the risk factors. Don’t allow formal milk banks to lead you to a false sense of security. Even with certain blood test, not all diseases can be detected through blood. There is no way to be 100% sure that the milk you are receiving is safe and that’s across the board.
However I do believe that both entities are important when it comes to supporting a mom who wants her child to receive breast milk. Talk to your lactation consultant or doula to help you make an informed decision.
Informal milk banks in the DMV
- Human Milk 4 Human Babies (HM4HB)
- Eats on Feets
For More Information:
Use of Donor Milk, https://www.fda.gov/science-research/pediatrics/use-donor-human-milk
The Milk Bank, https://www.themilkbank.org/donor-milk