Give Breast Milk

Donating breast milk should be more like donating blood.

Comments: 110

  1. Thanks for this column, it is very well thought out and written. It is not something I've thought about. Without a public conversation like this it would remain largely unknown. While it makes perfect sense, I had not realized that donations were so important.

  2. I live in France. After my daughter was born in 2013, I decided to donate breast milk to a milk bank. Fortunately, over here any woman can rent a high-quality breast pump and the cost is reimbursed by national health insurance.
    The breast milk bank asked me for blood work and a doctor's note, but other than that it was simple. They provided me with little bottles, sterilizing material, labels and instructions for proper hygiene and storage. If I hadn't already had a breast pump, they would have provided it free of charge. They came to my home and picked it up.
    In the end I was only able to donate about 34 ounces, but I'm glad I did at least that. Every drop counts for a precious baby. Perhaps next time I'll be able to give more.

  3. To what extent are the benefits of breast milk from breast milk alone, and to what extent are the benefits of breast milk from breast feeding? As someone who nursed two children for about two years each, I would wager that the benefits have far more to do with how mother-baby interaction stimulates the brain and forms the very bonds that make us human than with the biochemical makeup of breast milk itself, however superior it is in make up. Banking breast milk won't address this core issue.

  4. Hmmm... the blood system is "not-for-profit" in name only. Blood is sold and resold inside a huge money-making system in this country (just look at your hospital bill if you ever received blood -- up to $500 or so a pint, all for blood given for "free"). The only person who gets none of the money is the donor, or producer of the product. Even NPR did a serious examination of the system a year or so ago and noted the large amounts of money sloshing around in the blood system.

  5. Maybe you're being a little naive. You say milk banks don’t charge hospitals-- "except for basic fees that cover the cost of processing, pasteurizing and transporting the milk"? There are probably profits figured in along the way. Certainly people who do the testing and processing get paid. I doubt they donate their services. And by the time the hospital is providing it to newborns, I bet their charging a hefty fee for it. When do hospitals give anything away?

    It's very kind of you to donate your surplus milk but I wouldn't shame women who take money for their time and effort. I'm sure that even at $4 per ounce they are profiting less than does every other link in that chain.

  6. A milk bank is essential for the cases in which a baby is allergic to formula, who might be unable to nurse immediately after birth, (can't suckle must be given milk by eyedropper etc) and in the sad case of a child whose Mother dies in childbirth or soon after giving birth. Great article!

  7. Giving blood ought to be more like you describe as well, but the people who donate blood are not reimbursed, the blood donation agencies make huge amounts of money. We need less profit in all aspects of medicine.

  8. You make a good point. My husband gave blood regularly for close to 40 years. When I had to have a serious surgery which carried a significant risk of needing a transfusion we thought it would be a good idea to bank my husband's blood in case I needed it. Despite his long record of donations we learned we would still be charged $225 for every pint he banked for me.

    He no longer donates his blood.

  9. Very reasonable as long as the government stays out of the way.

  10. It's great that the author donates her surplus breast milk. It's nobody's business if other women want to sell theirs. No woman has a "duty" to give it away.

  11. Not since slavery, anyway.

  12. "...donating milk is like donating blood..." some of us do, some don't, but lucky for you, we do!

  13. Lack of paid maternity time is also one of the reasons, baby-mother bonding time has been greatly reduced.
    In most of the developed world one year paid (some cases partially) is the norm.''
    While both parties talk about protecting the most vulnerable, neither is willing to mandate the compulsory 9-12 paid maternity leave.
    Mother child health should be a no-brainer, as healthy babies will be healthy, smarter kids and adults.

  14. What a great thing. When I was nursing my two daughters, and contacted local hospitals and lactation consultants, I was told that this was simply not done. I thought it was an awful waste.

  15. The first road block breastfeeding is he government WIC program, it encourages mother to feed their baby with formula by giving them free formula From day one.

  16. I think this unfairly targets low income mothers. While it is true that WIC offers formula they offered manual breastpumps as well 8 years ago when I had my daughter. Today electric breastpumps are covered by the ACA, but the hurdles women run into is that businesses are illegally not providing women places to pump or breaks to pump milk. Since many low income mothers have to work to stay eligible for cash assistance (besides which it is not nearly enough to live off of by itself) so they don't have many options or alternatives to formula feeding. I've worked for more than one company that was requiring women to return to work after only 2 weeks.

  17. Women who receive WIC have meetings with lactation consultants, receive breast pumps, and are counseled on breastfeeding. They are able to stay on WIC for longer than formula-feeding mothers and receive more food to make up for the calories lost nursing.

  18. Breast milk is certainly the superior nutrition for infants and should be available to all babies through human milk bank donation. However, I wonder whether the research cited on the long-term social impact of breastfeeding pertains since bottle feeding of breast milk is not the same as nursing at the breast. While pumped milk can be administered via SNS to simulate and stimulate nursing, the physical act of breastfeeding offers benefits (to both mom and baby) beyond the milk itself. As a working mother, I am grateful that my insurance provided me with a breast pump and that my employer provides the necessary breaks to use it, but I don't doubt that the quality of pumped milk is slightly less than if I were nursing the baby for a variety of reasons. The milk's exposure to light and its affects on vitamin stability, lipid adhesion to the plastic components, all milk mixed rather than offered to the baby in stages with the fatty hind milk contributing to satiety, and a lack of biofeedback from baby's saliva triggering release of specific immunoglobulins from mother to boost immunity are some that come to mind. Additionally, the nature of bottle feeding is fundamentally different than feeding at the breast. Most research examines breastfeeding vs. formula fed infants. Bottle feeding with breast milk raises interesting questions that may help tease out some of the impact of breastfeeding - which benefits are specific to the milk vs to the act itself?

  19. There are specific benefits to breastmilk including anti-cancer properties that have been discovered, certainly breastmilk designed for human babies is better than cows milk.

  20. Bottle feeding pumped breast milk is better than formula.

  21. Great idea! 34 years ago when I was breast feeding my oldest I had tons of milk, despite a full time job and no breast pumps. I found that my body just regulated to the demand. Would have been great to have had this option.

  22. While I applaud Ms Currid-Halkett's alturism, the focus should be on how best to provide breast milk to children who need it. If we rely solely on the donations of women with "generous maternity leave" and altruistic motivation there will never be enough supply. (Think organ donation) Why she thinks breast milk donation, rather than sales "ought" to be the model is unclear. Hospitals pay for the food they feed patients, for medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. What makes breast milk different? My guess is the unstated reason is that women "ought" to be kind and giving, rather than financially motivated. I disagree.

    Paying women for their milk is no different from paying them from other forms of labor. NICU's desperately need milk, but they also desperately need medical staff. We don't expect the doctors and nurses to work for free. If you have time to volunteer at the hospital or donate milk, fine, but don't impose your altruism on others. It serves neither the needs of the babies, nor that of potential milk producers.

  23. American mom in France here, who pumped milk for my premature child in the NICU. I signed release forms and took a blood test at the hospital. I was able to lease a hospital grade pump to use at home and benefit from equipment, supplies and a dedicated room for pumping milk at the hospital. I brought my milk to the hospital everyday for my own child and any excess was processed by the hospital and dispatched to other babies in need. Likewise, if I didn't have enough milk, my child benefited from extra milk pumped by other mothers. I found this process quite efficient. Maternity hospitals are well positioned to manage the collection and processing of breast milk and provide the necessary support to mothers who wish to pump milk from day one.

  24. This sounds so civilized. Why can't we do that?

  25. To compare donated breastmilk to donated blood as public health imperative is a bit of a stretch. In preemie babies, breastmilk has been shown to reduce the risks of GI infections (NEC), and donor milk should be available in those cases.

    But, most well done studies do not find that (healthy, term) breastfed babies have a much of a long-term (health or IQ) advantage over those who were formula fed.

    The recent study out of Brazil on IQ had limitations, one being that they did not they did not factor the IQ of the parents. A recent sibling study did not find an effect (1), and another recent study found that whether or not a parent read to their children was used as a confounding variable (2), there was no effect of breastfeeding on IQ or school readiness.

    Large scale milk banks for healthy babies will be very expensive, labor intensive (on the part of the parents as well) and probably will not increase children's IQ, upward mobility, or long term health by a whole heck of a lot.

    (1) http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/sibbreast.htm
    (2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24268637

  26. Anne Riche, as with many who have no in depth training in epidemiology you are ignoring a wide body of evidence about many health issues that arise when infants are not fed normally. Infants are normally fed their own mothers milk.The American Academy of Pediatrics cites at least 14 conditions for which there is solid evidence of increased risk if infants are not fed human milk. There are some solid studies that actually do show the long term costs of not making human milk available. But in the short run, making human milk available in the NICU could reduce the risk of necrotising enterocolitis which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat.

    Factors that influence IQ are multicausal and because of that it is extremely difficult to find an effect without large sample sizes and tight controls of your treatment groups. Whenever you have a multicausal conditions such as lowered IQ or obesity, you have many factors that can change the results. So, if you compare infants that have been breastfed for less than the recommended duration with infants who have been breastfed for an even shorter duration as is the case with most of the studies, it is amazing that you can show any results at all. And that is EXACTLY how the sibling study was conducted. The design of most studies is such that it skews against finding results for IQ.

  27. Sburger, fact-checking the AAP proves interesting.

    The 2011 policy statement is poorly done. The citations used to support claims of a dose response with breastfeeding on several chronic conditions are older and inconclusive. Associations are substituted for causal relationships.

    For example, the citation used for a 31% reduction in IBD reads,
    "The current evidence demonstrates a possible protective effect for breast milk in the development of early onset IBD. However, the quality of existing data is generally poor. These findings need to be investigated in well-designed prospective studies.".
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19464699?dopt=Abstract

    The citation for reductions in asthma is from 2007, and concludes further research is needed. This information actually contradicts a 2008 AAP policy on infant feeding and atopic disease,
    "In summary, at the present time, it is not possible to conclude that exclusive breastfeeding protects young infants who are at risk of atopic disease from developing asthma in the long term (>6 years of age), and it may even have a detrimental effect."
    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/1/183.full.

    There have been several recent studies that have concluded that breastfeeding does not protect asthma or IBD.

    Citations for obesity, diabetes and eczema are similarly weak, and there have been several recent studies that have not found breastfeeding protective.

  28. In southern California the breast pump companies pay house calls to teach women how to pump and properly store their excess breast milk. This might be a natural alliance for the donation and collection of breast milk.
    Treating this important, natural bodily fluid like blood seems the way to go - milk banks as well as blood banks.
    Just last week my daughter who is still nursing a 2 1/2 year old used some of her own milk to cure an eye infection in her 4 year old. A few drops of breastmilk in the eye and after a second treatment a few hours later, the infection was gone. The medicinal properties of breastmilk have always existed but are not as well known as they once were.
    Little humans drinking human milk. What a concept!

  29. I need to clarify that my daughter is an RN and works full time from home, thanks to the technological world we live in.

  30. This is not a new idea, as sharing breastmilk has a very long history, extending into the mid-late 20th century, here in the US. When AIDS and other infectious diseases came into the public consciousness, the practice was abandoned. It is so valuable for premie babies, so it is encouraging to see the practice revived. It disturbs me that donated milk to pharmaceutical companies then becomes a profit-making commodity. Women donate with altruism; companies process it for profit. Of altruism or profit, which is the priority? And what do milk banks charge? I applaud women who donate: they are life-savers.

  31. Jo Anne Davis, milk banks are non profit so they are only looking to cover the fees involved in ensuring that the milk stored and transported safely.

  32. How many more calls for self-sacrifice and extra-work in exchange for "satisfaction" are women supposed to heed? Please let's stop the tendentious belief that it's women's higher calling to serve others without any kind of remuneration, acknowledgment, or help. Prof. Currid-Halkett, with her generous maternity leave and flexible and light teaching load, is indeed lucky to be able to offer her milk for free. In a country where 88% of working women receive no paid leave after their baby is born, her call for others to follow her example sounds a very false note to me.

  33. You do know what a wet nurse is?

  34. And, one dollar an ounce is exploitation in my book!

  35. I do not understand the impulse to foist one's particular believe system onto others. One person's do good impulse is exploitation to the next. What gives?

  36. Hello fellow Iowan. Your opinion is more libertarian than socialist, and I agree 100%.

  37. I had no idea that there was a cottage industry in breast milk. Amazing. And for those women that donate there ought to be a tax credit for every oz. donated. At least the gov't could encourage it, and based on the studies -- thanks Mom for another thing you did for me, breast feeding for a little more than a year. I'm sure those neonatal intensive care units would appreciate a better supply.

  38. That's all well and good, but you can't buy diapers with tax credits. For those who need it, cash should be an option.

  39. And then what? A tax credit for donated kidneys, sperm, blood, plasma?

    If there's a market for milk, let women enter the marketplace if they choose, paid or unpaid. But let's stop social engineering by way of the tax code.

  40. Fifteen years ago, when my infant son had surgery and would be in the hospital for nearly a week, I contacted the hospital to see if I could be tested then offered my milk to the NICU by pumping or directly nursing, since I would be there for my son's entire stay. I had very productive lactation. Liquid gold. I was told "We don't do that." I hope hospitals are more open to this now.

  41. I don't agree. When ignorant thugs can command millions for simply being athletes, women who can give breast milk are far more important and should be allowed to profit immensely from their service. It is as American as apple pie. Go for it, ladies. Make them pay as they would some useless athletes. What you are doing is one million time more important. I would start at $1,000 a pint. Just try to think that it is just like a new medicine hitting the market. Drive the price up to heights never seen before the market crashes and you can no longer exploit your product.

  42. Some things in this world are not a commodity

  43. Yes, women should have the option to do whatever they want with their milk, especially after the hard work of pumping. But what about the babies and families who could not afford help if there were no donors? My baby spent 6 months in the NICU and I saw her and many other babies suffering from necrotizing enterocolitis, a devastating disease that donor milk can both prevent and cure. Driving up the price should not be the goal when it comes to these situations.

  44. Make them pay? Who's them? The one's who'll drink it?
    None of 'them' have jobs. None of 'them' have much of a skill set beyond crying, sleeping & pooping.

  45. As Homer Simpson would say, "Doh"!
    Sort of a White Cross operation?

  46. Both of my children spent the early part of their lives in NICU and were fed with donor breast milk. Later, when I learned that my ability to produce breast milk was limited to about 3 oz a day, I was able to supplement with donor milk to get us through the first few weeks at home before supplementing with formula. Each time I fed my daughters, especially the second one, I said a little prayer of thanksgiving to the donor mother who took the time to provide this important service. My 4 year old and 2 year old girls are amazing and happy kids. I am aware in this, and so many other things, that they are supported by a community of known and unknown other mothers and fathers.

  47. I looked into donor breast milk, but the pediatrician at Mount Sinai's NICU warned me that it's not a regulated market and I wouldn't necessarily know what my baby, an 11-week preemie, would be getting. We used formula and he is healthy, highly intelligent and cute (no evil eye).

  48. The spirit of altruism and generosity that has been expressed by Ms Currid-Halkett is admirable. Breast milk is the most superior foundational nourishment any baby can consume during its early development. Unfortunately, much of the interest in commercially available breast milk is coming from the ever growing legions of health and wellness obsessed, middle aged men who believe that consumption of this female manna will endow them with all the longevity, prowess, and invincibility that their testosterone and ED supplements cannot provide.
    The marketplace pricing of breast milk reflects the level of consumer competition coming from these fanatical narcissists who see no ethical conflict as they jump in line ahead of malnourished infants.

  49. I admire the do-gooder impulse. I am a regular blood donor, so I suppose I share it. But I can afford to.

    Having an infant at home isn't cheap - so let's not stigmatize nursing mothers who find in in their interest to sell milk.

  50. I agree that donating breast milk is a miracle for children in ICU. But I question the effects of pasteurization on the enzymes and antioxidants that are one of the best part of breast milk. Are they destroyed as they are in cows milk? Why if you have checked the donors out, would they have to pasteurize it?

  51. Ms. Currid-Halkett is, of course, free to donate her excess breast milk without compensation. But I don't think that it is appropriate for her to suggest that women who chose to get paid for their own excess breast milk are greedy or doing anything improper. It should be a matter of personal choice.

  52. Excellent article, excellent points. Clearly, there are benefits to breast-feeding and I think that the idea of public service drives to secure milk, particularly for sick or needy infants is a fundamentally sound idea. But why is it that articles on breast-feeding always focus on it as though IQ and later success in life are dependent upon it -- almost as a be-all and end-all? Some of us produced perfectly healthy, robustly intelligent, responsible and successful children on a much shorter breast-feeding schedule. And for those of us still productive in our 60's and 70's who probably never got near our mother's breast for feeding as infants? Please! Let's realize that what is essential is proper and correct nutrition. I never let my children have Coke or other such sugary-processed foods but I bet there are geniuses out there that drank that stuff and have thrived. I still don't let fast food/junk food in my house and I am rabidly against the Food, Inc. approach, but let's be a little less shaming about what we as mothers did or did not after the first few months. Sometimes, you just have to get along and a lot of my relatives and friends who sometimes were militant about breast-feeding as much older parents realize there is a lot more to raising good people -- teaching them the milk of human kindness is a good start.

  53. I can't think of any other drug or supplement than breast milk that has such great publicity based on such terrible research. No controlled study has ever shown that breastmilk, alone, has any benefit over formula (no IRB would approve that study, i.e., randomizing babies to breastmilk vs formula conditions). In 20 years we will all look back and laugh at the 'liquid gold' phenomenon.

  54. @southern mom,
    Premature infants can benefit from breastmilk when they are young--for unknown reasons they are more prone to Necrotizing Enterocolitis and breastmilk can be protective. This is why donor banks prioritize premature infants rather than fullterm, healthy infants.

    As for the other stuff, not so much.

  55. If one wants the supply of Human Breast milk to grow to meet the demand, bring back the wet-nurse. Depending on donations will never cover the need and there is no reason why HBM should be a scarce or free commodity. It might just help those that need income post-partum so they could stay off work a little longer. Putting a value on it will increase the suppliers and production and the cost will come down. With more than 3 million births in the US a year, even if 5% of them became pumpers, there would be a flood.

  56. Donating mothers need to unionize -- $1 an ounce is a ridiculous price. How much semen would we collect if we offered $1 an ounce?

  57. I applaud what this mother is doing; however, the study that she (and apparently everyone else) sites is absurd. It is the clearest example of correlation being mistaken for causation that you can possibly find. It is so obviously flawed that it just boggles my mind how it ever got published in the first place. In a nut shell, a mother that is willing to go through the massive amount of inconvenience necessary to continue breastfeeding past a month (because she believes it may help her child) is the same mother that is likely to spend extra time reading to, nurturing, and doing other activities that are likely to benefit cognition. The two are inextricably linked. To suggest that you can disaggregate that data and determine the effect of diet 30 years later on something as little understood and diffuse as intelligence is beyond stupid.

    That being said, my wife breast fed my kid until he was six months old. Better safe than sorry!

  58. I thought exactly the same thing. It reminds me of all the studies showing that learning a musical instrument leads to high academic performance. I always suspect its more a correlation: which parents/school can afford a musical instrument and lessons and who have the time and patience to schlep to classes, listen to painfully bad scales being played, etc. is what really is being measured. That said... sign up the kids for piano lessons! Your last sentence made me laugh out loud.

  59. I like the idea of donating extra breast milk if one is so inclined and wealthy or privileged enough not to need the money. If mothers with excess milk want to sell their milk, that should be an option as well.

    It needs to be said that women are all too often called upon to give of themselves and at its extreme, this giving becomes compulsory as during the still much hidden Baby Scoop Era of 1950-1970 when gender biased do-gooders and ideologues coerced unmarried and poorer mothers into surrendering their own infants so infertile couples could form families. These mothers' "donations" were pretty much compulsory and these mothers' were expected to be thankful for the opportunity to give themselves and their children what was supposedly a better life. The mothers who choose to talk about it report receiving lifelong grief, PTSD, and diminished health in exchange for their children. Adoption professionals made lots of money.

    In the second to last paragraph, Professor Currid-Halkett refers to a "subset" of people who sell their blood and of course, might sell their milk. In terms of shared values, public policy and how high minded ideals are implemented at ground level, there are subsets and there are subsets. Which subset gives and which subset receives and why? For all its good information, this op-ed piece seems to call upon women one more time to give without receiving. Same old. Same old.

  60. I nursed my first child and pumped for 2+ years and I think breastfeeding is great for the child's nutrition and development as well as mother-child bonding. But I would question the causal link between breastmilk, IQ, and socioeconomic status. What percentage of women who don't breastfeed can't due to economic pressures to get back to work, social and/or familial pressures, etc. -- not because of any physical reason? The child's whole early environment, not breastfeeding alone, shapes its developmental trajectory. What we need -- and I doubt Prof. Currid-Halkett would disagree -- are genuinely family-friendly policies ("pro-life" in the best sense) that afford women and their partners more flexibility and support in tending to newborns. And if you have to formula-feed for economic, physical, or health reasons, we don't need more interpretations of data that lift up breastfeeding as the be-all and end-all of child development. Love and attentive care are the best baby foods of all.

  61. Giving milk is "like giving blood", since milk like blood may contain infectious agents from the donor. As with blood donation, rigorous screening of the donor as well as the donor milk for potential infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria is needed to protect recipients.

  62. While I commend the author on her donations, I wonder if the pasteurization of breast milk would negate the many of the benefits of it? Some may feel that pasteurized breast milk would still be better than formula but it hardly seems like liquid gold once it has been obliterated by heat.

  63. Unfortately it seems like were decades away from the v
    point where most breastfeeding moms can donate due to workplace hurdles, lousy maternity leave policies, even the way our society views breastfeeding and motherhood. I feel like as women have less children the more stigma is attached to parenting and particularly motherhood. I don't know why we can't have government run maternity leave like unemployment.

  64. Lets take a look at what a lactating mother pays for: a pump in some instances (not all insurances have to cover breastpumps), everything to sanitize the parts after every pumping, bags, electricity to run the pump and freezer, pump parts that need replaced, a freezer, extra food (Im always hungry), and at least 4 hours every single day away from my family to pump excess and avoid mastitis. Tell me again why I shouldnt sell my milk to milk banks or individuals? Some people cant be bothered to even replace breastmilk bags to 'donor' moms leaving us to foot the entire bill to feed their child. Formula isnt free and neither should breastmilk be required to be in all cases.

  65. I will tell you why. I spent countless hours in the NICU with my son. I produced more milk than he could ever eat, so his supply was not an issue. However, I was witness to mirco-preemies and even older preemies in critical condition. Often, they had sick mothers who could not provide milk, or they had absent mothers who for other reasons where not pumping. It was heart breaking - nobody was there to hold and love these babies and they lacked basic nutrition that has been shown to greatly improve outcomes over any other type of food source. Furthermore, I never saw one of these babies fed formula, probably for medical reasons. They all had donor milk. Yes, it took a lot of time, money and hardship on my family to produce the 1,000s of ounces of milk that I donated, but after witnessing such tragedy, I could not ethically make any other decision. I consider my donation one of the best outcomes of an otherwise very difficult time for my family. I believe that if it is in my power to help others, I should do it. I had to pump anyway, and I had the resources to do so, so why not do a good thing for others?

  66. I have donated 4000 ounces SO FAR to local families and have been treated like a lowly old cow by 95% of the recipient MOMS. The women who took my milk to feed their babies couldnt replace the bags I bought and filled. Couldnt be bothered to treat me like my tume or family mattered at all. Maybe if all recipient families treated the very people they have come to expect to provide their family with life sustaining nourishment with respect there wouldnt be so many people looking at other PAID options. I personally drove 6 hours 2 separate times to hand deliver breastmilk to a 'needy' family and that mother not only disrespected me, but she also disrespected my aunt and mother, who stood up for me when she mistreated me. It's hard to empathize with recipients when the donors get mistreated. I hear it time and time again so it doesnt just happen infrequently.

  67. The author writes, "Milk banks don’t charge hospitals, except for basic fees...." Nonetheless, as far as I can tell, there is nothing that prevents the hospital from charging astronomical fees for supplying the milk to needy neonates as they do with other treatments.

  68. I was going to post exactly this--How much do the hospitals subsequently bill the patients, or the patients' insurers, for this donated breast milk? The author's model only works if it is altruistically distributed forward at no charge. Why do I get the feeling this is not the case?

  69. As of now, hospitals that provide donor milk as mode of care in their NICUs (as do 9 out of 10 of the top children's hospitals) do so free of charge for families, the same as they would with formula. It is part of the NICU budget and actually reduces their overall budget because outcomes are better and average duration of hospital stay is reduced.

  70. It's too bad Europeans can't donate anything here - blood or breastmilk - because of outdated fears of mad cow disease. I have a freezerfull and I will be throwing it away because I am European. And nobody wanted to take it off my hands informally because I do enjoy a drink at night and the occasional cup of coffee (both are fine in moderation).

  71. I am sure you can find taker for in on Eats on Feets- which will have a NY facebook page or human milk for human babies

  72. Before you throw it away- maybe try mixing it in your baby's food (cereal, smoothie, etc.) & they will still benefit from the nutrients & your efforts won't have been wasted!

  73. My daughter was born with a cleft palate and she couldn't nurse. I pumped exclusively for her, building up an impressive frozen supply. At the recommendation of lactation consultants, I rented a hospital grade pump and took Fenugreek supplements, which is a herb that increases milk production. If you have ever had to pump EXCLUSIVELY you realize what a chore this is--every two hours during the day and at least once in the middle of the night, tied to a pump for 15 minutes. It was WORK and severely curtailed any activities outside the home for months. I counted myself lucky that I was at least able to give her the best nutrition. After 6 months I had saved up enough that I could cut down on pumping and feed her from the frozen supply. She refused to drink the defrosted milk. I tried it and it tasted soapy. Turns out there's a little known condition in some women where they make an excess of the lipase enzyme in their milk. Its fine fresh but tastes soapy when frozen and defrosted. So I continued to pump and looked for alternative uses for the milk. I tried to donate it and was told that since I took the Fenugreek, they would not accept it, as they do not know what affect it has on preemies. I had to dump every little bit of it. I had no idea about this lipase enzyme, and none of the 5 lactation consultants I met with ever mentioned it. I am still quite sad over the loss-- if anyone has any ideas what I could have done differently I'd be interested to hear.

  74. That is very sad & I've never heard/read about it either. The only thing I can think of is using the milk as an ingredient in your baby's food later on to try to mask the soapy taste.. mixed in cereal or a smoothie or mashed potatoes or something like that? Now I'm wondering about my own frozen milk supply!

  75. Jenn-I recommend defrosting and tasting! If it does taste soapy, you can prevent it in future batches by scalding the fresh milk prior to freezing.

  76. While it is great that the author donated her milk to help others, I do wonder if she was over-pumping. Breast milk supply is based on demand. The body makes more milk the more often the breasts are "drained". So, for most women (when feeding on demand), the body will naturally make only what the baby requires. The body can be stimulated to make more milk by more frequent expression of milk either via pumping or feeding. There is an adjustment period when the supply first comes in, but the average women will experience an evening out of supply very quickly if they only feed the child. In the case of the author, perhaps she has some phisyological difference that caused her to truely overproduce. However, the vast majority of women who allow nature to dictate supply will not produce a significant amount of excess milk. I am one of those mothers, and I managed to stash about 100 extra ounces in case of emergency by pumping an ounce or two a day for a few months during my maternity leave (I currently pump at work and make exactly enough for my baby to drink the next day). For most women, making extra milk would require significant pumping time and dedication, such that it may be appropriate to offer them compensation.

  77. Is it the milk or is it the bonding? So everyone is obsessed with this link between breast "feeding" and higher intelligence. But if you are just feeding the baby from a bottle, are the results the same? Is it the nutrients in breast milk that make the difference? Or is it the time that mother's spend bonding with their child in such a unique way? This is something I am curious about.

  78. That's a good question. This is another form or 'wet nursing', because it used to be that if a woman died in childbirth, another woman nursing the baby was the only way it would survive it's first year.
    I'm guessing it's the nutrient factor.
    After all, food is a bonding thing regardless it's an infant, or people of any age.
    Holding a baby close, giving it the facial cues, and sounds, and body warmth, that's just the nurturing process, no matter the gender of who is feeding the baby.

  79. Eight years ago, my son had to switch from breast milk to a special formula because the doctors said he was allergic to the dairy I had ingested (and possibly other foods). I had 100s of bags of milk frozen and labeled but was turned down for donation because I had taken an over-the-counter allergy medication (Allegra). The prescription medicine I took for my under-active thyroid was OK, though. It took me a year to finally throw it away, and that was painful. I suppose the milk has to be "pure," but if my doctors said it was OK for my children, then why not others?

  80. Donation seems most beneficial to across class milk receipt by all babies in need of mother's milk. With TPP coming our way, will Corporations over-rule elected government to make breast milk a commodity for profit only by these companies, thereby leaving babies needing benefits from the milk, left in the dust of poverty, when less wealthy parents cannot pay corporate prices for it.

  81. "But give it to a milk bank, and allow hospitals to use their financial resources for other aspects of caring for sick babies."

    Donating breast milk is an altruistic, helpful thing to do. But would hospital resources not spent on commercial breast milk be diverted to help sick babies? Any dollars freed up would likely go to massive hospital executive salaries, expanding the hospital to make more money, or buying up competing hospitals and physician groups to further dominate the prices of the local health care market.

    Not to mention, if breast milk is commoditized and sold as a medicine, the insurance companies will be sure to step in the middle and get their cut.

  82. Ten minutes?! Come on. I was an over-producer too, and could pump 8 oz in the morning (from one side!) but it took about 45 minutes -- on the days my high-energy kid would even let me sit that long to do it. The first ten minutes probably only produced an ounce or so. I support donating or even selling your surplus, but let's not pretend it only takes 10 minutes. It's a true commitment.

  83. Thank you for sharing this! I was able to donate milk as well and take a great deal of pride in the fact that I was able to help another family! It's such an amazing thing to do!

  84. I did donate breast milk. But don't tell working mothers that pumping and donating extra milk is "not that hard." In that first year of your baby's life, anything that takes an extra 10 or 20 minutes IS that hard. The only reason I donated is that I finished pumping and we had a bunch of extra in the freezer. I would not have donated it until I knew my baby wasn't going to need it. A few lucky super-producers with generous employers like you should definitely take your path, but please don't tell the majority of working mothers that it's "not that hard" to make some extra milk and donate it.

  85. When my first baby was born about 25 years ago at Georgetown University Hospital, she was in the NICU. It was very sad to leave her behind and go home babyless! My saving grace was being able to pump and freeze my breast milk for her and to share with the other very sick babies in NICU. To this day, I derive pleasure from being able to help out other preemies. My daughter is now a thriving young adult in medical school who may want
    to specialize in maternal-fetal medicine. A big shout out to the Lactation Center at the hospital with the logistics of pumps, freezing containers, coaching and support!!

  86. The Brazilian study the author cited studied breastfed babies, who presumably received their milk directly from their own mothers' breasts. That's not the same as bottle feeding with breast milk, presumably breast milk alien to the infant (from another mother). Until that bottle feeding with alien breast milk is studied, we really won't know whether breast milk itself, anyone's breast milk, has the power to affect future I.Q., educational attainment, and income.

    While promoting the benefits of breast milk, the author then condemns the companies that traffic in it, and by proxy, the women who supply those companies for compensation. The author may not be in straitened circumstances, but many mothers are, and should have the right to sell this valuable commodity. I'm glad to see that the rate of pay cited is as high as $4 an ounce, since $1 seems insultingly low. If an enterprising mother has the moxie to sell her milk. she shouldn't be shamed for that choice.

  87. And the "mommy wars" rage on....

  88. Reading comments here leads me to think that mother's milk may either be donated, or sold as a commodity for purchase by corporations that, I imagine, as this undertaking gains public knowledge, will make huge profits from it. Breast milk for donation and for sale give mother's options according to their preferences, good. With TPP coming our way, will these options be lost when corporations selling breast milk as a commodity sues our elected government to take away the option of donation, declaring that breast milk donations decrease corporate profits from selling it.

  89. If I agree to donate my breast milk, could the hospital at least throw in a couple of free ultrasounds?

  90. You do not have to donate to a milk bank! If you are denied by a milk bank, please go to Human Milk for Human Babies or Eats on Feets, where you will quickly find eager parents (women with low supply, adoptive parents, etc)of non-hospitalized infants who want to put your milk to good use. Don't feel you have to throw it away!

  91. Given the way Currid-Halkett bandies about the data on nursing and IQ and achievement, I am shocked (mortified?) that she is a professor of public policy. There is virtually no evidence to establish breast milk itself is the causal factor here. It may be, but there's no good data for that. Increasingly it seems the data suggests that nursing is one factor among many and may well be more corralative than causal. I myself was a dedicated nurser (two years for one kid, one year for another) and I went to great lengths to make nursing possible but I also know the many studies and know how difficult it has been to establish causal evidence in the matter. Ms. Currid-Halkett, given her line of work, should as well.

  92. I think it's great if you can. It is liquid gold!

  93. I also overproduced. I also wanted to donate my breastmilk to the Milk Bank. Unfortunately, I was not able to do so because the Milk Bank prohibits people who have lived abroad for a certain amount of time from donating. It was highly frustrating. I had to find my on donors to give my milk away, as it just didn't seem right to sell it. I really hope the Milk Bank will consider revising its policies to reflect more sensible and research based inclusion criteria.

  94. hint if it was EZ and food,time, supplies were free then more women would probably do it. But it's not free , it cost money! From the food we eat to the supplies it $ to even do it. I love how the writer assumes all insurances provide adequate breast pumps to even consider that. Most breast pumps that are provided free by insurance or low-grade pumps not meant for every day use.

  95. I'm not going to stay and argue about this, and I think people should breastfeed and share breastmilk to the degree that they want to and that it works for them. But the studies aren't nearly as clear and uniform as we are all being led to believe. Here is another way to interpret the Brazil study. http://www.skepticalob.com/2015/03/new-breastfeeding-study-shows-that-ma...

  96. Thanks for this important article. I wish more breastfeeding moms knew about milk donation - there is no good substitute for human milk. It literally saves lives every day. Like the author, I also donated my excess breast milk to the San Jose Mother's Milk Bank, and every time my baby and I went to drop off another cooler full of the frozen yellowish-white bags, I would get a lump in my throat. Sometimes I would wipe away tears. "Good luck, little babies," I would say, thinking of my niece and nephew who spent so many weeks in the NICU. What could be a better reward than to know you are helping the tiniest, most vulnerable, and most innocent human beings in the world?

  97. This topic makes me think about the historical role of wet-nurses. As I understand it (and I am no historian), wet-nursing was a common practice among Europeans in the Renaissance era, as outsourcing nursing allowed noblewomen to resume the business of conceiving a (male) heir without the suppression of fertility caused by breastfeeding.
    Lower-class wet-nurses benefitted from this system, too; a wet-nurse employed by a wealthy family could earn income for her family and put off conceiving additional children, alleviating further strain on her family's resources. Many nobles, believing that the nursing mother's environment affected the quality of her milk, required wet-nurses' husbands to sign contracts stipulating that they treat their wives well (provide ample food, refrain from beating, etc.) for the duration of the nursing. In an era when poor women had few rights or protections, wet-nursing ensured some standards of good treatment.
    While times have changed, we still have many poor women who would benefit a great deal from a system that allows them to sell their milk in exchange for access to basic levels of health care and security that, sadly, they do not receive otherwise.

  98. My great grandmother was a wet nurse in the late 1800's in her European city.
    Seems like everything old is new again.

  99. There are alot of considerations. First, much of the donated milk becomes contaminated with bacteria. hard to keep it fresh. More important all breast milk is not the same. Recent studies show bad things passed on in breast milk from various diseases that the donor has. more important many donors are obese, poor diet and these contribute to bad things. studies show the average American mother has much less quality breast milk then some native tribes in So. America, Why? Our diet of processed foods, fat and sugar. these change many things in our body including breast milk. If the donor has any of the above, perhaps comes from an income group with poor diet then the milk maybe very suboptimal.

  100. One of the dictates of capitalism is, whatever can be commodified and accrue profit WILL be commodified. Our corporate masters have commodified blood and health care (with many regrettable consequences), and they're attempting to train us to think of water resources as a commodity, then there is little hope of avoiding the abhorrent consequences of breast milk commerce.

    Capitalism spawns a few winners and many losers, and the winners are eager and well situated to exploit the losers.

  101. Because my second child was unwilling to drink defrosted previously frozen breastmilk, I was able to donate to the Human Milk Bank of New England nearly 400 ounces of excess milk that I otherwise would have thrown away.

    I am glad that I was able to donate the milk, but if the goal is to increase the supply of breastmilk needed for premie babies, paying some nominal compensation in consideration of the time and effort by moms to produce that milk seems to be a reasonable step to increasing the supply.

    I did find the process of donating milk to be a little cumbersome since I had to find a lab willing to draw my blood and then the blood had to be shipped off and then tested. What I think would be a good first step to increasing the supply is for hospitals working with lactaction consultants to a) reach out to moms and make them aware of this option (after first providing support and encouragement for those moms to breastfeed their own babies) and b) to offer blood draws while in the hospital to test for suitability to donate breastmilk.

    Not all moms can and do overproduce, but at least making moms aware of the option and testing them early for suitability would do much to increase the supply, whether it is donated or whether moms receive some nominal compensation for the time and effort.

  102. Donating milk has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. My son was born full-term but with an illness that required a week NICU stay. The nurses offered him donor breast milk but I didn't know if it was safe and I was in too much of a fragile state to do some research. Once I learned about the rigorous testing and pasteurization procedures of the non-profit milk banks, I vowed I would donate if I could. I donated over 1000 ounces to our local milk bank and I'm proud to help. Having my son in the NICU was the scariest time of my life and donating milk helped me heal from the experience. I don't think formula is in anyway bad but breast milk has proven benefits to preemies and I'm glad I got to help some fragile babies.

  103. I'm pumping as I type this, at work. I fully support the idea of donating breast milk and hope the process will become easier and more widely supported. However, this piece misses the mark when it suggests that pumping at work is easy and doesn't take much time. It's disruptive, conspicuous, and a huge time-commitment. I do it anyway, and if I have surplus frozen milk when my daughter is weaned I will look into donating it. But well-meaning advocates of milk donation and breastfeeding in general do actual harm when they downplay the difficulties of breastfeeding and working -- new moms who struggle with balancing the two should not be falsely told that what we're trying to do is easy. It's not.

  104. I definitely agree with the author I think it is amazing that she is donating her surplus breast milk. I think that whoever has the time and is able to donate should definitely donate because there are many infants who lack nutrition so it is a great thing to help them.

  105. Facilitating the giving of breast milk to infants in need is a great idea that the Gates Foundation should get behind, instead of their insane promotion of Monsanto's dangerous agendas. ( my apologies if GF already does this; they should do more in this area )

  106. Maybe it is time to bring back wet nurses, along with doulas and midwives. I suspect there are many Latin American (in particular) mothers who would much rather be nursing an extra baby instead of cleaning a hotel room or a house.
    Why couldn't hospitals have 5 women on call, who have been screened...? What a gift, and the baby (though not a 2.6 pound one - and there are plenty of ethical issues in keeping those babies alive) gets to suckle on a warm breast rather than a bottle.

  107. Tuesday's press conference by Governor Scott Walker and Congressman Paul Ryan regarding breast milk was quite interesting. As part of their initiative to promote gender equality while moving folks from welfare to productive work, they are advocating tax incentives to men who engage in hormonal and genetic therapy, so that they, too, will be able to lactate and sell their milk.

    Inasmuch as they are both from Wisconsin, a major dairy state, I am looking forward to their plans for incorporating male milk production into the dairy industry there. I understand the advertising campaign will promote the slogan, "Real Men Make Milk!", giving employment doing commercials to players cut from the Packers, undoubtedly endowing Cheese Heads everywhere with a new sense of identity.

    This morning I learned from its ad on the Rush Limbaugh Show, that Whole Foods has committed to selling MotherLove brand Breast Milk Yoghurt and MotherLove brand Breast Milk Ice Cream. I followed up with an online search and found out Whole Foods is also working with the CCMA (Consolidated Corporate Mamas of America) to expand into racial and ethnic varieties that will appeal to those who believe their little tykes might be able to acquire desired traits through the consumption of these products. Understanding that major progress is sometimes met with resistance by ordinary people when it comes to racial and ethnic issues, they have hired the Lysenko Marketing firm to plan an appropriate educational campaign.

  108. Why does human breast milk sharing scare so many people off? Its such an ancient practice that our part of the world has long been distanced from. Donate, share, sell or buy? It's a surprisingly polarizing argument. Vegan American Princess also looks at it from various sides. http://veganamericanprincess.com/human-breast-milk-sharing-donating-sell... We applaud Elizabeth Currid-Halkett for putting this into focus, but there are several lenses to view this issue through.

  109. I am a breast cancer survivor. I underwent a bilateral mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. I was able to conceive after my treatment and gave birth to a healthy and happy baby boy, however he did not tolerate formula. I knew my only option was to get donated breast milk, but I was quite terrified and overwhelmed by the prospect of feeding him for an entire year in this manner. I had read articles warning that donated breast milk could contain bacteria. I am a Speech-Language Pathologist for the NYC Public school system and on a teacher's salary could not afford to purchase donated breast milk. My OBGYN suggested that I try the facebook sites Human Milk for Human Babies and Eats on Feets. Through these two sites, as well as my neighborhood list-serve, I received donated breast milk from over 50 mothers and fed my son for an entire year exclusively on donated breast milk. My son is so happy and healthy. Not once did he get the slightest bit sick from any of the donated milk. He just turned 1 last week and several of the mothers who had donated breast milk attended his party with their babies. I formed a very special bond with some of the moms who donated to me several times. They became my son's milk mothers and their babies became his milk siblings. I highly encourage others in need to go ahead and give milk sharing a try. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to those moms who helped my son become the healthy and happy one-year old that he is today.