We have made incredible progress in our ability to nourish babies with human milk, thanks to the establishment of milk banks. 30 years ago, formula was actually the gold standard and pediatricians were recommending it to new mothers as the healthiest option. When the tides shifted and the benefits of breastmilk hit the press, there was no denying that it was pretty good stuff. Breastmilk banks began to pop up, with the goal of nourishing those babies who didn’t have access to enough of their mother’s milk.
What a great concept! Neonatal intensive care units were now able to give premature babies donor breast milk and thereby reduce the risk of infection and other health complications. Breastmilk boosts the immune system of these compromised neonates in a way that formula simply can not. You can read more about donating milk to infants in need here: https://www.hmbana.org/
Hospitals aren’t the only ones who benefit from milk donation, as breastmilk is now available to pretty much anyone who can afford it. The accessibility of donor milk has raised some controversy, however, with valid concerns about the health of those babies who receive it. The underground milk market involves privately selling unscreened and unpasteurized milk to other women in need, often at a rate of $4 to $5/ounce. Pasteurization is necessary, as it gets rid of bacteria and viruses that may be present in the milk. Human milk is a body fluid that can transmit diseases, and should be handled and treated with the same precautions as blood or other body fluids. However, it’s not. As http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/05/ff_milk/all/ explains:
Most body fluids, tissues, and organs—semen, blood, livers, kidneys—are highly regulated by government authorities. But not breast milk. It’s considered a food, so it’s legal to swap, buy, or sell it nearly everywhere in the US.
Alarming, right?? We think so. While the benefits of breastmilk have rightly earned it the title “liquid gold”, you want to make sure that what you’re feeding your baby is clean. You wouldn’t feed your child uncooked chicken, so why unpasteurized milk from a complete stranger?
Breastmilk sharing is a great concept…. it just needs to be regulated and made a whole lot safer, and that may take awhile. So if you need milk, best to stick with established milk banks that adhere to rigorous sterilization practices and screening. Click here for locations established by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America: https://www.hmbana.org/milk-bank-locations.