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When mothers are unable to provide breast milk for babies born prematurely, Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) at area hospitals turn to human milk banks. There are 16 human milk banks across the U.S. currently providing this life-sustaining option. Mothers donate excess breast milk to these banks, which in turn make it available to neonatal facilities.
For infants born very prematurely, research has shown that human milk reduces the risk of developing NEC, sepsis, and other infections, which can mean shorter hospital stays.
Although using donor milk is an age-old tradition, some have been concerned about the safety of donated breast milk. That’s where the Human Milk Bank Association of North America (HMBANA) comes into play. HMBANA is a professional association for supporters of nonprofit donor human-milk banking. Their mission is to promote the health of babies and mothers through the provision of safe, pasteurized donor milk, and to support breastfeeding.
HMBANA was founded in 1985 to develop guidelines for donor human milk banking practices in North America, to provide information to the medical community regarding use of donor milk, to encourage research into the unique properties of human milk, and to facilitate the establishment of new donor milk banks, along with other related activities.
With the cooperation from HMBANA, milk banks ensure mothers are properly screened and tested before accepting their donated milk. Milk banks also test milk before and after pasteurization to ensure it is safe.
Besides working with organizations like the Human Milk Bank Association of North America, milk banks rely upon dedicated volunteers to assist with fundraising, signing up mothers to donate milk, and other day-to-day tasks. They have specialists who gather the donated milk, prepare it for pasteurization, ensure it is stored properly, and distribute it to hospitals.
Mothers’ Milk Bank of Tennessee
Tennessee is in the midst of an initiative to establish its own milk bank, thanks to a nonprofit startup named Mothers’ Milk Bank of Tennessee (MMBTN). The organizers incorporated in the state in 2014, and currently have an active planning committee of eight committed professionals. MMBTN is on target to obtain 501(C)3 status by June 2015.
MMBTN plans to establish a pasteurization and distribution facility in Nashville to serve hospitals and families mostly within the state of Tennessee. The organizing committee is looking for passionate individuals to volunteer and will soon be identifying mothers who may have extra milk to donate.
If you want the opportunity to make a difference in the community and support a culture where human milk is the standard of care for our vulnerable babies, reach out to MMBTN at mothersmilkbankoftn.org.
— Victoria Roselli is a certified lactation consultant, Lamaze instructor, and newborn care specialist. Learn more at maternalblessings.com