Breast milk donations, sales growing

For more than a year, mom Nicole Hutchison's routine went something like this:  feed her baby, pump extra breast milk and bring coolers of it to her local nonprofit milk bank. In all, she donated more than 3,200 ounces.

"I decided to donate my breast milk whenever I discovered that I had a really abundant supply," she said.

The need for extra supply is huge because there's a breast milk donation and research explosion underway.

"This is an extremely fascinating time," said Lars Bode, Ph.D., Associate Professor of
Pediatrics at UC San Diego.

Experts say more mothers than ever are donating to nonprofit milk banks. And, the number of mothers pumping milk for compensation is also increasing.  Just jump online and you'll find some moms are being offered about a dollar an ounce by companies that turn the milk into a commercial product formulated to help babies in need. (http://www.prolacta.com/, http://www.medolac.com/uploads/8/8/1/4/8814177/medolac_hmo_final.pdf and  and http://www.mothersmilk.coop)

"The industry of commercializing human milk products is certainly growing," said Bode. " Private companies compensating women for their breast milk shows them that there's a clear value to this very powerful tissue."

The reason for the milk rush is there's a critical demand for human milk to feed premature infants.  Studies show that at least one commercial product made with breast milk, and hospitals using donations from non profit milk banks,  can help premies who may not be able to ingest their mother's breast milk. 

"What's very interesting in that when mother delivers prematurely her milk initially is a little different than if she had had the baby on time," explained pediatrician Dr. Lisa M. Stellwagen with UC San Diego.

Researchers are also studying human milk to see if it could have benefits for adults,  possibly improve the immune system, fight infection and even help Crohn's disease.

"We are probably far from understanding fully what is the benefits of human milk. There's still so much more to discover," Bode said.

As research on breast milk grows, so do worries about a donation supply and demand problem. John Honaman with the Human Milk Banking Association of North America says now nonprofit milk banks are competing with companies compensating women for their donations.

"There's approximately 60,000 mothers in the United States that could donate breast milk to babies. We know that right now the amount of donors that we have donating their milk to nonprofit mothers milk banks isn't enough to meet those needs," said Honaman.

Hutchison says she's thrilled to be one of the moms who did donate. 

"It is a gift to feed your child and it's a blessing to be able to share that gift with others," she added.

Experts tell us the advancement of breast milk research, and milk donations, have helped save the lives of premature babies who, years ago, would not have survived. For more information on breast milk donation go to https://www.hmbana.org/.