$500 for a gallon of milk? Breast milk donor bank serves 9 hospitals in NH
A gallon of milk costs more than $500... But it's not what you think.
At the Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast in Newton Falls, Mass., they distribute donor milk, mainly for premature babies in hospitals.
Naomi Bar-Yam, Ph.D, the Executive Director started talking about a breast milk bank a decade ago, but plans didn't come to fruition until 2011. Now they are processing about 1,500 ounces of breast milk daily that are distributed to about 75 hospitals in the Northeast, including nine in New Hampshire. But who donates their breast milk?
Most of the time it's moms who are lucky enough to make more milk than their baby needs. But other times, the situation is more unfortunate.
"Sometimes we have mothers whose babies either were born premature and did not survive or sometimes have full term losses," Bar-Yam says. She says it can be therapeutic for a mother who has suffered a loss to donate to a baby in need.
Bar-Yam says the statistics are overwhelming. Breast milk is better. "Certainly in the last 20 to 30 years the research about the value of human milk is so overwhelming and so compelling. It does matter," Bar-Yam says. "It matters for the nutritional components. It matters for the immunologic components. It matters for brain development. It matters."
It's those reasons that make Danielle Hebert, office manager at Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast, donate her extra breast milk. She has a 3.5 month old son and every morning she pumps after she feeds him in order to help other babies.
"I just think so much love goes into your milk so to be able to share that with babies in need is really moving," Hebert says.
But how do they make sure the breast milk is safe for babies? Bar-Yam says there is an extensive screening process even before the milk can be dropped off. The mother must get a blood test that screens for HIV, Hepatitis B and C as well as other diseases and illnesses.
Once the milk is accepted the bags are individually tested then mixed with other breast milk before being pasteurized. Bar-Yam admits some of the healthy antibodies are killed during pasteurization, but not all and it's the only way to make sure the baby receiving the milk will be safe.
Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast is the only breast milk bank in the area but donor milk isn't cheap. Just to cover costs, Bar-Yam says they charge about $4 an ounce, which comes out to $512 a gallon. But, the majority of the milk is used as bridge milk, meaning just until the mother's milk comes in, so many babies may only need a few ounces to get by.
Even so, donor breast milk is still a relatively new study and many insurances won't cover the costs. Bar-Yam says sometimes hospitals will step in and cover the fees. And if they don't and a mom doesn't have money to pay for donor milk, Bar-Yam says they will absorb the cost.
The Mothers' Milk Bank is a 501-c3 non-profit. If you would like to learn more about how to donate milk go to their website - milkbankne.org. They accept financial donations as well that will go to moms who need donor milk for their infants but can't afford it.
The New Hampshire hospitals that have a supply of donor milk on site are: Catholic Medical Center, Concord Hospital, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Elliot Hospital, Lakes Region General Hospital, Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, St. Joseph's Hospital and Wentworth Douglass Medical Center.