In 2022, the United States experienced a frightening issue – a national formula shortage that left many parents helpless and unfortunately, left many babies without the proper nutrition for their particular developmental stage. The crisis shed light on the many different practices, markets and supply chain issues that together created a gaping hole in supply, without a backup plan for supply. In reaction to this crisis, milk banks reported a surge in demand for breast milk and breast milk donations in response to the shortage.
Human breast milk banks are organizations that collect, process, and distribute breast milk to babies in need. These organizations provide breast milk to premature and sick infants, who may not be able to receive milk from their own mothers. The milk is screened for any potential health issues and pasteurized to ensure its safety.
Milk banks in the US and Canada are overseen by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which certifies that banks employ donor screening, blood testing, and testing of donated milk to ensure dangerous drugs and communicable diseases are not transmitted, and pasteurize milk to prevent contamination. While informal sharing of breastmilk carries risks for contamination, disease transmission, and exposure to harmful drugs and medications, it also became more widely accepted and mainstream as parents looked for alternative options to feed their babies.
One of the main benefits of donating breast milk to a human milk bank (or informally, as a vetted source) is that it can help save the lives of premature or sick infants. Breast milk is essential for the growth and development of these babies, and it can help prevent serious infections and illnesses. Donated milk also helps support a wide range of growing and changing family needs like foster parents, adoptive parents, surrogate parents and parents with babies with intolerances and allergies to many mainstream formulas.
For women who have an oversupply of milk, donating to a human milk bank can help reduce the stress and pressure of having an oversupply of milk. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all the extra milk, you can know that it's going to good use and helping other babies in need.
If you're interested in donating your breastmilk, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Make sure to research the milk bank or organization you're considering. Choose one that has a good reputation and is accredited by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) to ensure that your milk is going to a safe and reputable place.
- You will be required to fill out a health questionnaire and your milk will be screened for any potential health issues.
- You will need to express your milk and store it in a sterilized container, and you will be responsible for the cost of shipping the milk to the milk bank.
- Know that not all milk banks accept donations, there are some that only use milk from their own mothers, so it's important to check with the milk bank before you start pumping.
Aside from donating to a human milk bank, you can also help by donating your breastmilk to other new moms who are struggling to produce enough milk, or even to friends and family members who may need it. Remember, as a mother, you're doing an amazing job, and your breastmilk is a gift that can save lives. Know your options and rely on reputable resources to help you make the most informed choice for you and your family.
So, go ahead and pump away, knowing that you have a preservation method that will keep your milk safe for your baby whenever they need it. We’re so grateful to be able to offer parents the option of Leche given the continued stress of the feeding crisis.