Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Reply turned post: Milk bank or mother-to-mother - what's the "best" way to donate milk?

Several commenters on my last post about where your milk donations are really going said they liked mom-to-mom milk donation in part because they know exactly where their milk is going. That got me thinking about mom-to-mom vs. milk bank, and before I knew it I had a reply-turned-post. As usual, revised and expanded below:

I think it's wonderful that you donate locally/mom-to-mom but let's remember that milk banking, done honestly and correctly, reaches babies that mom-to-mom donation cannot reach and who need human milk the most - the very sick and premature babies. Especially since Eats on Feets came on the scene, I feel like there has been a privileging of mom-to-mom over milk bank donation in some communities. Yes, it is usually much more fulfilling to meet a mother and baby and know your milk will be going directly to them. It is wonderful to give that mother milk for free or for a much lower cost than the milk banks, knowing she wouldn't be able to afford it otherwise. Done correctly and safely, I think mom-to-mom donation is great.

But (non-profit) milk banks are struggling for donations and there is absolutely value in what they do. I see milk banks sometimes getting slammed by the mom-to-mom donation community because of the price they have to charge for their milk. For people who think this way, please keep in mind that these banks are non-profit (unlike Prolacta!) They charge only what they have to in order to collect, process, store, and ship the milk. And they serve babies who would NOT receive milk through mom-to-mom donation. A 26-week premature infant in the NICU whose mother has a drug dependency, and cannot or will not provide her milk for her baby still needs human milk...he will not get it from mom-to-mom donation. A two-day-old late preterm infant who is jaundiced, not feeding effectively and needs a boost until her mom's milk comes in should still be able to receive human milk...but she won't get it from mom-to-mom donation.

I am perhaps biased because I work in a hospital where we have donor milk available and I see how important it is to the babies and to the parents. I am so grateful to the moms who donate to milk banks. That's why I think if you are able to donate to a milk bank - and I know not everyone can, because of the restrictions they have to place on their donors - you should try to do so. The mothers who are restricted from donating to banks for reasons that are still acceptable to recipients in their community (for example they are taking fenugreek, or don't meet the minimum donation amount for the milk bank) should absolutely pursue mother-to-mother donation. But let's remember that milk banks play a very important role for babies; just because a donor cannot meet or talk to the recipients, or because milk banks need to charge for their milk, does not mean milk bank donation is second-best.