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Human Milk Banks and World Breastfeeding Week

International breastfeeding logoWhen it comes to breastfeeding, some women have an easier time than others. There are many reasons why a woman might have a difficult time with breastfeeding, and the Mother and Child Health and Education Trust has produced a new ten step video series, Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, to support mothers and babies getting a good start breastfeeding and to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week during August 1-7, 2010.

Breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of successful breastfeeding is important work, but there is another resource that helps ensure that babies get the breastmilk they need. Human Milk Banks accept breastmilk from volunteer donations and distribute that breast milk to babies who need it. The Human Milk Bank Association of North America recently celebrated 100 years of human milk banking in the U.S. The HMBANA exists to develop guidelines for milk banking and to encourage the sharing of information between researchers, the medical community and member banks to ensure donor milk is adequately distributed and made available to babies who need it most.

According to the WHO, the very best food for a newborn is her own mother’s milk, but if she is unable to produce milk for her baby then the next best option is not formula, it is donated human breast milk from another mother. From Wikipedia:

According to a joint statement by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): “The best food for a baby who cannot be breastfed is milk expressed from the mother’s breast or from another healthy mother. The best food for any baby whose own mother’s milk is not available is the breastmilk of another healthy mother” (UNICEF, p. 48). “Where it is not possible for the biological mother to breast feed, the first alternative, if available, should be the use of human milk from other sources. Human milk banks should be made available in appropriate situations” (Wight, 2001).

Milk Banks are an important part of making human milk available to babies whose mothers are unable to breastfeed. In order to ensure the safety of the premature or immuno-compromised babies who often receive donor milk, breast milk donors are carefully screened through a telephone interview and blood tests to ensure there are no pathogens or harmful substances being passed through the milk. Donor milk is also pasteurised and cultured to test for bacteria growth before being given out.

Breastfeeding has the potential to improve the health of babies and mothers around the world, and increasing the number of babies who receive beast milk at the start of their life, especially premature and vulnerable babies in NICU wards, helps to improve those babies’ chances at a healthy life.

There are many ways to promote breastfeeding, whether by attending a nurse-in or nursing in public, joining La Leche League, helping a friend or neighbour get started breastfeeding or emailing a link to Kellymom.com when a nursing mom has a question about low supply or sore nipples. Donating to a milk bank is also a wonderful way to give something back and support breastfeeding when your own experience has gone well. Donating milk takes some time and dedication to pump and store the minimum donation amount, as well as going through the approval process, but it is a powerful and rewarding way to make a real, tangible difference in a little baby’s life with the power of breast mlk. If you’ve had a baby in the past six months and have more than enough supply to meet your own baby’s needs, you may be eligible to be a breast milk donor.

Find a Milk Bank near you.

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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Amber Morrisey (@birthroutes) August 2, 2010, 4:22 pm

    Wonderful wonderful post, I love the topic you took on.

    Clap Clap Clap.

    • michelle August 3, 2010, 12:07 am

      Thanks, Amber. It’s easy to overlook milk banks but they and their donors are doing important work to provide breast milk to babies who really need it.

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