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Liquid Gold: The New York Milk Bank Distributes Donor Breast Milk to Families in Need

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Liquid Gold: The New York Milk Bank Distributes Donor Breast Milk to Families in Need

Deciding to breastfeed a baby is a personal decision for all mothers. There are significant benefits to feeding a baby breast milk. The American Pregnancy Association shares that, “Breast milk has the perfect combination of proteins, fats, vitamins, and carbohydrates. There is nothing better for the health of your baby. Leukocytes are living cells that are only found in breast milk. They help fight infection. It is the antibodies, living cells, enzymes, and hormones that make breast milk ideal. These cannot be added to the formula. “

But some mothers may find themselves in a position where they are unable to breastfeed, and one solution they may want to consider is donor milk. Or, if you are a mother with a surplus of milk, donate your “liquid gold” to a milk bank. An while we are in the midst of a pandemic, this has not stopped mothers from receiving or donating breastmilk.

We touched base with Executive Director Julie Bouchet-Horwitz of The New York Milk Bank to learn more about their organization and donor breastmilk.

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What is The New York Milk Bank, and how did it come about?

The NY Milk Bank collects extra breastmilk from healthy lactating women, pasteurizes it, and distributes it to babies in need. We opened in 2016 after fundraising to open the first milk bank located in New York State. Our primary purpose is to save the lives of premature infants. With advances in medical technology, babies can be saved as early as 23 weeks gestation. These infants may weigh as little as one pound. Their mothers have not completed the pregnancy and often do not make enough breast milk. If fed anything other than human milk, they are at risk of developing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a devastating illness that has a high mortality rate and lifelong complications for survivors. But there is a solution. We can reduce the incidence of NEC by feeding these babies donor human milk.

My interest in donor milk came about after I adopted a baby from China who was a “failure to thrive” infant. I fed her donor milk, and she thrived, and years later, when I returned to the workforce, I realized that there was no donor milk in NY state. I began a campaign to educate hospitals, nurses, and the public on the need for donor milk in NY. We fundraised, bought equipment, learned about milk banking, wrote policies and procedures, acquired our license, and opened in 2016. We have distributed over 700,000 ounces of donor milk since opening.

With the COVID Pandemic, is there more of a need for donated milk?

Not really. We do have a deferral period of 28 days if a mother has COVID or was exposed to COVID. But in the Spring, during the first wave of the pandemic, milk donations increased because mothers who worked and pumped were home with their babies and did not need their pumped milk. Now that women are returning to work or have settled into a new routine, milk donations are typical. But we are always looking for more donors!

Is the milk safe?

Yes! We screen the donors for all infectious diseases, including COVID. We need health clearance from both the mother and the baby’s providers, we test the blood of the donors, and then we pasteurize the milk. Our process retains the immunological properties of the milk while killing bacteria and inactivating viruses. Then we send a random sample of the milk to an outside laboratory to test it for bacteria. So our milk is extremely safe and undergoes excellent quality control methods.

How can a mother donate milk?

If she has at least 150 ounces of extra breastmilk, she can call us at 212-956-6455 or email us at ordermilk@nymilkbank.org to begin the screening process. It starts with a 20-minute phone call, and if she passes, we send her a Complete Donor Packet that needs to be filled out. It is a lifestyle and history review. Then we need medical clearance from her and her baby’s provider. Then we send her to a lab to have her blood drawn.

Are there any costs involved?

No. We pay for everything, the lab test, the cooler and box to ship milk, and if she is continuing to pump, we send her bags to store her milk.

How can a family receive milk?

They need a prescription for donor milk and can fill out some forms on our website under Receive Milk. We provide donor milk to babies at home, adopted and foster babies, babies born through surrogacy, or in gay families. As long as we have enough milk, we can spread the liquid gold!