Sharing Our Bounty: Milk Sharing

As mothers, we know how impressive our bodies are. Inside them, our babies thrive until they are ready to be born. After birth, our bodies continue to produce all of the nourishment our babies need until they are ready to start taking solid foods. Our bodies are so good at what they’re designed to do, that often mothers find that they have more milk than their babies need. Sometimes, mothers faced with such a bounty are moved to donate their milk to babies who, for a variety of reasons, don’t have access to their own mother’s milk or enough of their mother’s milk to meet their needs.

There are many ways to get milk from one mother to the baby of another, but the only manner of milk sharing recommended by La Leche League is the type that is facilitated by a medical professional. This is usually done through a milk bank.

In Salt Lake City, the closest non-profit milk bank is Mothers Milk Bank in Denver, Colorado. When a mother seeks to donate through a milk bank, she goes through a rigorous screening process, including a health history and blood tests for diseases, including HIV and hepatitis. The requirements to donate milk are more stringent than those to donate blood. This is because often the milk is going to babies whose health is already compromised in some way due to illness, prematurity, or other causes, and these babies are more sensitive to medications and illnesses that can be transmitted through breast milk than a healthy, full-term baby. Milk sent to a milk bank is pasteurized and then tested to make sure that it will not support bacterial growth (milk that babies receive from milk banks is sterile). You can find a list of donor qualifications on the Mothers Milk Bank website. If you are looking for a milk bank in another part of the country, please visit the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) for a complete list and more information about milk banking.

La Leche League of Utah and the Utah Breastfeeding Coalition are working to establish a non-profit milk bank in Salt Lake City. These groups are currently collecting stories about donating milk and receiving donor milk to build a case for the need for a local non-profit milk bank. If you or someone you know has a story like this, you can leave a comment on this post, or refer to the blog post entitled Urgent Request: Your Stories of Donor Milk for other ways to share your story.

Until we have a milk bank in Salt Lake City, some mothers are hesitant to donate milk through an out-of-state milk bank. Some find the process of collecting and mailing the milk onerous, and it works better with their family’s needs to be able to donate milk locally. Others simply want to donate to local babies in need, rather than having their milk distributed outside of the area. These moms sometimes seek what is called “casual milk sharing” arrangements, which is basically any milk sharing arrangement that is not facilitated by a milk bank. The trouble with casual milk sharing is that human milk can transmit not only life-giving antibodies and nutrition, but also medications, herbal remedies, and illnesses, including HIV, hepatitis, and thrush. When a nursing mom uses any substance, she’s making her best effort to calculate the relative risk and benefit of using that substance and to make the choice that’s appropriate for her baby. But what’s appropriate for one mother’s baby, has the potential to be dangerous for another mother’s child.

How do we donate milk locally in a safe manner without a local milk bank? The best way to mitigate the risks of casual milk sharing is to donate milk with the help of a knowledgeable medical professional. A medical professional can perform blood tests and health screenings on the donor mother to assure that this mother’s milk is as safe as possible for the baby who is going to receive it.

Whether a mom donates through a milk bank or mom-to-mom with the aid of a local medical professional, it is also a good idea for a potential donor mom to consult with a lactation consultant and her child’s physician to ensure that milk sharing will not negatively impact her own nursling(s). Each mother’s milk is custom made for her baby, and before she donates that milk to another baby, it is important that she’s certain doing so will not compromise her own child’s needs.

For more information about La Leche League’s guidelines about milk sharing, visit the Milk Banking and Milk Sharing page on the La Leche League website.

-Charity


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