Milk Banks: Safe Alternative to Wet Nurses

How a Mother Who Cannot Breast Feed Can Still Give the Baby Breast Milk

We have all heard that “breast is best.” Before infant formula was invented wet nurses helped nourish  babies who couldn’t be nursed by their biological mother. But, in the 1980’s, it was discovered that AIDS and other viruses could be transferred in breast milk and the La Leche League discourages wet nursing and cross nursing for similar reasons.

So, since it is illegal to use wet nurses in some places such as in New York, mothers who believe that breast milk is best but cannot nurse their own baby, there are breast milk banks and breast milk swaps to get breast milk for their infants.

In an article from “Milk Banks vs. Milk Swaps: Breast Milk’s Latest Controversy,”  Bonnie Rochman explains that milk banks are a safe way to get breast milk to feed an infant but there are dangers in using breast milk swaps. She explains that milk banks that are part of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) are a safe way to find breast milk for premature babies and sick infants with breast milk.

The article states that milk banks intensively screen donors via multi-page questionnaires and pay to get them blood-tested; they also underwrite the cost of shipping frozen milk to the milk banks, where it’s pasteurized to kill bacteria, processed and triaged to those most in need. But all these steps cost money; as a result, many milk banks charge $4.50 an ounce.

Ms. Rochman’s article says that while online milk-swapping groups are becoming more popular (such as Eats on Feets or MilkShare) as an inexpensive ways to share breast milk, the practice of sharing breast milk through the Internet isn’t recommended.

In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises parents against using milk-sharing groups: “When human milk is obtained directly from individuals or through the Internet, the donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk. In addition, it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby.”

Have you ever worked for parents that used breast milk from a breast milk bank or breast milk swap?

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