As a breastfeeding mother and the newest member of The Milk Bank team, I’ve had a lot of questions about the benefits of breast milk and the process of its pasteurization. Some of my own, some from friends and family, and many from media and social media sources. It’s such a unique position to be in during this season of my life, as I’m living through active breastfeeding, and the end product is all around me.
While much of this information is found on themilkbank.org in various places, I figured some “straight-talk” might be helpful on a few of the frequent questions we’ve all had. These are my own (at times rather lengthy!) words and responses, but I share the same viewpoints of The Milk Bank.
I’ve never heard of milk banking before. What’s the big deal?
It’s actually a BIG deal within a growing industry. As more research becomes available, it’s become more apparent how vital breast milk is for babies – but especially premature and sick babies. Hospital NICUs know this well, and 9 times out of 10, hospital staff will administer donor milk to babies in the NICU if the mother cannot provide her own milk for whatever reason. It’s not just that formula is difficult for tiny bodies to digest, but the nutrients found in breast milk can also speed up recovery and length of stay in the hospital.
The Milk Bank and its sister banks – there are nearly 30 members of Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) -- advocate for mother’s own milk to be used, but if this is not possible, pasteurized donor human milk (PDHM) is the next best option for Little Baby. We provide a transition option for mothers who are waiting for their own milk to come in or complete nutrition in the absence of mother’s milk. (Typically, however, families don’t purchase PDHM for the full year of an infant’s life.) In rare situations, some families will purchase PDHM for an older child or dependent who cannot digest much other than human breast milk. (Read Elizabeth Hallam’s story here!)
We collect breast milk donations from thousands of approved donor mothers, analyze it for nutritional value, mix it in batches, bottle it, pasteurize it, and then have it analyzed to make sure it’s safe for our babies.
We receive daily orders from hospitals and outpatient families, dispensing an average of 20,000 ounces of PDHM each month. Last week, for example, we shipped nearly 30 orders to seven states. It’s quite the process!
So do moms just show up at the office and pump on site?
It doesn’t work like that, though we do have a lactation room for mothers to use if they need breastfeeding/pumping support or assistance from our lactation consultants on staff. (Check out our free services, Breastfeeding Resources and Assistance (B.R.A.) @ The Milk Bank!) I use the room when my 6-month-old daughter is with me in the office – for feeding, changing and napping. It’s perfect for a working mother! And I’ll plug B.R.A., too – I’ve had a heck of a time getting rid of a milk blister and plugged duct. It’s so nice to be able to ask helpful coworkers for tips and tricks. (Maybe a future blog post?)
Anyway -- once approved as a donor, moms, and sometimes dads, too!, drop off frozen, surplus breast milk either at the Indianapolis office or at a milk depot location across the Midwest. If dropped off at a depot, it is shipped to us via dry ice to be pasteurized and processed.
Outpatient families and courier drivers also come into the office to pick up milk orders. Our staff know many of our visitors on a first-name basis, and we keep track of babies’ progress – we’re invested in their health, too.
How can you know it’s safe for babies to eat?
Like the process for cow milk and cheese, pasteurization eliminates harmful bacteria and other potential infections. It’s true that a small amount of nutritional elements are lost in the process, but research shows that PDHM is the next best thing to a mother’s own milk.
Rest assured that the equipment used at The Milk Bank are the highest quality machines for handling this extremely important “liquid-medicine.” We strictly adhere to thorough screening, processing and distributing guidelines developed by HMBANA in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and US Food and Drug Administration. We also maintain regulations from the Indiana Department of Health.
With all the handwashing requirements, scrubs, masks and gloves, I’ve never been in such a clean, sanitary work environment!
Well, what do you think? Have you learned something new? I still have several questions to answer, so stick around for the follow-up post! And if you have a question for me, email firstname.lastname@example.org.