Ideally, breast milk comes from a baby’s own mother. But when this is not possible, you can search for human milk banks. You can give your baby breast milk from donors (other women’s breast milk), which provides the same precious nutrition and disease fighting properties as your own breast milk. If your baby has special needs, such as intolerance to formula, severe allergies, is failing to thrive on formula, is premature or has other health problems, he or she may need donated human milk not only for health, but also for survival.
1. Reasons why a mother can’t breastfeed her own baby
There are several reasons why a mother may not be able to breastfeed her own baby:
- In a premature delivery, a mother’s milk supply may not become established enough to provide milk for her baby. Sometimes the stress of caring for a very ill infant prevents the milk supply from developing. (Read: Stress Management for Women)
- A mother who delivers twins or triplets might not have enough milk supply to nourish all of the babies.
- Some medicines taken by the mother for a health problem, such as chemotherapy for cancer, can harm a baby.
- A mother might have an infection that could be spread to her baby through breastfeeding, such as HIV or hepatitis.
- A mother might have a health problem that prevents her from breastfeeding or makes it impossible for her to produce milk.
2. Breast Milk Donors
Breast milk from donors is stored in human milk banks. At this time, there are only 23 human milk banks in the United States (as of Dec 2017). While the number of infants and children who depend upon donor milk for health or survival is small, their numbers are greater than is the supply available from these milk banks.
Donor Milk Collecting Process
Human milk banks screen the donors, and collect, screen, process, and dispense donor human milk. Because babies who use donor milk are not related to the donors, every possible step is taken to ensure the milk is safe. And the milk is only dispensed by a prescription from your health care provider. The prescription must show how many ounces of processed milk are needed per day, and for how many weeks or months. The milk bank also needs your name, the baby’s name, and your address and phone number. Then, you or your health care provider can contact a milk bank to order the milk. If the milk bank is close to you, you can pick up the milk there. If you live out of the area, the milk bank can ship the frozen milk in coolers every few days.
Cost of Donor Milk
The cost of donor milk is about $4 to $6 per ounce. Sometimes there is another fee for shipping. Most health insurance companies cover the cost of donor milk if it is medically necessary. To find out if your insurance will cover the cost of the milk, call your insurance company or ask your health care provider. If your insurance company does not cover the cost of the milk, talk with the milk bank to find out how payment can be made later on, or how to get help with the payments. A milk bank will never deny donor milk to a baby in need.