Banking on Mother's Milk

Meet Kesha Hasty

That's how Kesha Hasty learned about milk banks. The 30-year-old mother began pumping her milk and saving it in preparation for a trip she took after the birth of her son, Malik, who arrived December 15, 2009. Before she knew it, Hasty filled her refrigerator, freezer, and deep freezer, as well as her mother's freezer. She knew her son wouldn't be able to consume all of that milk, but she wasn't sure what to do. That's when she saw a note on a friend's Facebook page that said milk banks were in desperate need of donations.

Hasty, who lives in Stafford, Virginia, called WakeMed Mother's Milk Bank, the closest milk bank to her, located in Raleigh, North Carolina. After a series of questions, she went through the donor process: a blood test that screens for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and other diseases; notes from her ob-gyn and Malik's pediatrician; and a milk donation exceeding 200 ounces. Once all the paperwork was in order, the milk bank sent Kesha a cooler and FedEx labels, and she sent them her frozen, bagged milk--222 ounces in all. Once the milk arrived at the milk bank, it was pasteurized to kill bacteria and diseases and then dispensed to a child in need.

"I was fortunate to have quite a bit of extra milk so I was able to donate it," says Hasty. "Not only was I helping my child out, but I was able to provide someone else's baby with this," says Hasty.

Experts like Gina Ciagne, certified lactation counselor and senior director of breastfeeding and consumer relations with Lansinoh Laboratories, say that donor breast milk is the next best option, after mother's milk. "According to the World Health Organization the mother's milk is the ideal food for her infant," says Ciagne. "If the baby can't get milk from his or her mother, the next best thing is donated milk because it's species specific."

Ciagne says that milk banks are becoming more popular as breast milk feeding becomes more accepted in the United States. But management of breast milk is expensive--at the Mother's Milk Bank of Iowa, the costs average out to just over $4 an ounce--for a variety of reasons. The screening and pasteurization process and the overhead of the nonprofit milk banks are costly. Parents need a prescription to get donated breast milk, much of which goes to babies who were born prematurely or are struggling with an illness in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. Hospitals are the first priority, but milk is also prescribed regularly to children with sick mothers and to adoptive parents. Because of low supplies, milk banks are struggling to keep up with demand. Ciagne hopes to see that change.

"The more people know about it, the more they want to do something about it," says Ciagne. "Knowledge is power."

To learn more about milk donations and to find your local milk bank, go to HMBANA.org.

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

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