Human milk banks collect, store, and redistribute breastmilk from breastfeeding mothers to mothers (and babies) who need breastmilk. Whether you’re banking or buying, getting the scoop on milk banks gives you guidelines, resources, and support.
What and where are milk banks?
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, almost all children were breastfed—either by their mother or by a wet nurse who could be a relative, friend, or even a hired stranger. In the 13th century, being a wet nurse was the most lucrative job a woman could have.
When “formulas” were first introduced in the late 1800’s, they were individually created by physicians for their patients and based on cow’s milk. As food processing became better, these formulas became powdered and condensed by large companies into a convenient feeding option that eliminated breastmilk on a wide scale.
But breastfeeding moms with excess milk were always encouraged to donate it for the good of premature and sick infants, either through becoming a wet nurse or expressing it for storage. In 1909 the first milk bank was established in Vienna and others soon followed. And in 1985 HMBANA (Human Milk Bank Association of North America) was born.
Today, milk banks exist in many states in the US and in Canada. They accept breastmilk from mothers in their area where it is combined in bottles with the milk from 3-5 other local donors, pasteurized, tested for bacteria, and frozen for storage and shipping to hospitals or individuals.
When are you ready to bank your breastmilk?
Breastfeeding moms with overflowing boobs make milk banks (and their clients) oh-so-happy. According to Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast, you can sell or donate your extra breastmilk if:
- You are in good health.
- You have milk that is truly extra, or cannot be used by your baby (bereaved and surrogate mothers are welcome to become milk donors).
- Your milk was put in the freezer within 48 hours of being pumped.
- You are only using medications on our “approved for use in donors” list (call if you have questions!).
- You are able to donate a minimum of 150 ounces (there is no minimum for bereaved donors).
Banking your breastmilk can be a selfless and free donation or you can do it to earn some cold hard cash (and who doesn’t need that?). Either way, your contribution could be life-saving and hopeful to a family in need. And some “supplies that assist lactation” can be tax-deductible.
When are you ready to use banked milk?
Human milk banks (wet nurses or the stored-and-frozen kind) have always existed to feed babies in need. That need can come from mom’s body or baby’s, but it’s always the perfect reason to use a credible and safe milk bank:
- low milk supply
- preterm birth
- failure to thrive
- weight loss
- malabsorption syndromes
- feeding/formula intolerance
- immunologic deficiencies
- pre- or post-operative nutrition
- low blood sugar
- high bilirubin levels
- baby’s inability to latch
- cleft/lip palate
- tongue/lip tie
- maternal health complications
- “bridge” milk to supplement baby until mother can feed
If your desire is to nourish your baby with Mother Nature’s original life preserver, you have other breastfeeding moms at your back, donating to help you and your little one.
If your hospital doesn’t have a program to supply donor milk, ask if you can bring it into NICU for your baby. And if you know in advance that you will be using banked milk, you can even include it in your birth plan. Include that birth preference and the supplies you’ll need on your hospital bag checklist so you can begin right after baby’s birth.
Some health insurances will cover the cost of purchase, but they are rare. So be sure to check with yours to see if the expense can be offset or even eliminated.
Certified human milk banks create a long-distance way for women to help each other. Whether you’re the depositor or withdrawer, it’s babies and moms who benefit and help to create a healthier world.
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Published: July 30, 2017 | By SP Turgon, Certified Labor Doula | Reviewed by: The Best Ever Baby Expert Team | Last reviewed: July, 2017