Did you know that breast milk is a medicine? Recent research suggests that breast milk may prevent serious illnesses that premature babies sometime get. That’s why more and more babies who are born prematurely are being fed their mom’s milk rather than infant formula. But not all premature babies can get their mom’s milk. It can be difficult for moms to make enough milk when their baby is born too early and has to stay in the hospital. Fortunately for these babies, there is the next-best thing: donor milk from a milk bank.
All across the country, new non-profit milk banks are opening to meet the huge demand for donor milk for babies in hospitals. Milk banks carefully process the milk, including pasteurization and screening the donors, to ensure the milk is safe and healthy for the babies who receive it. Unfortunately, the demand for this milk is much, much greater than the supply of milk. In fact, most babies can only get donor milk for a few weeks or months.
How can you help? Donate breast milk.
If you are currently breastfeeding your own baby and have extra milk stored in your freezer, or if you make more than your child needs, you can donate it to one of the non-profit milk banks. By doing this, you can make sure that your milk will go to a baby who needs it very much. You don’t even need to live near a milk bank — the milk bank will send you a special box and pay for shipping costs to get your milk to the bank.
Before you can donate, you must go through a screening interview with someone from the milk bank to make sure you are healthy enough to donate. The milk bank will also pay for you to get your blood tested for any infectious diseases that could make the recipient babies sick.
The milk bank staff want to make it as easy as possible for you to donate, and they are available to answer questions you might have along the way. If you are interested in learning more, women from anywhere in the United States can donate their milk to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Ohio, one of the largest milk banks in the country. Other non-profit milk banks can be found on this list of milk bank locations.
Breast milk has the power to help many babies — not just your own — have the healthiest possible start at life. If you are breastfeeding and have some milk to spare, consider donating it to a milk bank. Your breast milk could be the medicine that a premature baby needs.
Sarah A. Keim, MA, MS, PhD is a principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She is an assistant professor of pediatrics in The Ohio State University College of Medicine and of Epidemiology in the College of Public Health.
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