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Donating Milk: Know Who You Are Sending it To!

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I've written in the past about Prolacta, the pharmaceutical company that is working to take over the processing of breast milk and the sales of the same milk to hospitals throughout the U.S. I've also written about some of the questionable tactics they've used, including contacting hospitals that already work with the HMBANA banks and trying to claim that HMBANA milk is NOT safe, using "The National Milk Bank" as a non-profit "front" to gather milk from moms that want to donate milk out of the goodness of their hearts...even offering to send free breast pumps to moms that will donate the milk that they pump.

Today, there's a new article about the latest move by Prolacta. Apparently, Prolacta has succeeded in partnering with the University of Minnesota in order to collect milk from mothers in the area.

Read the full article or this snippet:

The University of Minnesota Medical Center is collecting the "raw material" - breast milk - from nursing mothers who are willing to donate what they don't need.

Then it's shipped to Prolacta Bioscience of Monrovia, Calif., where it's modified and sold back to hospitals for $26 to $43 an ounce.

Now, consider that in term of traditional non-profit milk banking through HMBANA. Those banks charge ONLY enough to break even on processing costs, usually around $3-$4 an ounce. That's just not good enough according to Prolacta...

...the university's hospital decided to open the state's first milk bank in collaboration with a for-profit company. Prolacta re-engineers breast milk to ensure that every ounce has a precise number of calories and nutrients.

Skeptics wonder whether the high-tech treatment, and the high prices, are necessary. "Nonprofit banks have been providing milk for many, many years ... (and) the babies have thrived on it," said Mary Rose Tully, past president of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, a network of nonprofits. "When you introduce a profit motive, you're introducing a whole different ballgame," Tully said.

Now, it gets worse and here's where I REALLY start to have issues with the flat-out lies coming out of Prolacta.

But "human milk is highly variable in its content," he said. One ounce might contain 15 to 24 calories. And for premature infants, "15 calories per ounce just isn't going to cut it," Georgieff said. So it would be helpful, he said, to know exactly "what we're giving the kids."

That's where Prolacta comes in. Founded in 1999, it developed a way to pool milk from multiple donors and process it so that each ounce contains 20 calories, and has an identical amount of nutrients. It also produces a human milk "fortifier" that's less likely to cause digestive problems than the commonly used one made of cow's milk, the company says.

"This is the first time you're able to treat a preemie with a complete human-milk solution," said Scott Elster, Prolacta's chief executive officer. He said research suggests that it's better for babies, but the company is only now "doing the studies to determine that."

Guess what? HMBANA banks TEST the milk that comes in for both calorie count and nutritional value. In fact, they won't accept milk that has less than 20 calories an ounce (the average amount of calories in breast milk.) They also carefully segment the incoming breastmilk by how calorie rich it is so that they can tailor the milk they send to the baby that needs it. For example, my "regular milk" has 25 calories an ounce. That milk can get sent to sick babies that need an "extra" boost so that they can have breast milk without fortifiers.

The milk bank also taught me how to pump even HIGHER calorie milk. I can either pump after I nurse, or I can pump a few minutes, then switch containers and pump again to get the hind milk. Doing this, I can supply them with milk that has 30 (or MORE) calories per ounce, which can then be used for the sickest of babies in the NICU.

In other words, Prolacta is full of crap. Claiming that HMBANA milk banks just randomly throw together a bunch of milk from any old woman and ship it out without regard to who is getting it or why...it's just downright dishonest and it infuriates me.

It goes beyond that though...Prolacta is simply FEEDING the belief that breast milk in and of itself isn't good enough. (Granted, they have to come up with some mumbo jumbo to justify charging 10 TIMES more per ounce than HMBANA banks...) Basically, their message is "we have to take this milk and make it better, because without science, nature could NEVER take care of these babies."

The profit motive is also scary...why? Because Prolacta can give hospitals incentive to use them...incentive that the HMBANA banks cannot give.

This summer, the university's children's hospital agreed to become one of Prolacta's suppliers. The hospital receives $2 an ounce, which Dundek says should cover its costs and maybe more.

"We're hoping that eventually ... we can actually make some money on this," she said. The profits would go to breast-feeding support services for new moms, she said.

HMBANA banks cannot pay for milk...they cannot give kickbacks to hospitals that send donors their way or that use their milk. They're barely able to keep their doors open in some cases because they are doing everything they can to get this milk out to babies. In fact, the Columbus bank quite often sends milk to babies that desperately need it KNOWING that they will never be paid for that milk. Why? Because babies need it and they are not going to refuse an infant in a life or death situation simply due to inability to pay.

Please...if you have breastfeeding blogs, belong to discussion forums, LLL or any other pro-breastfeeding group...help spread the word about Prolacta. Help moms to realize the difference between non-profit milk banking and giving their milk to a for-profit company that plans to not only profit from that milk, but to do everything in their power to shut down the competition. (i.e. HMBANA)

If you have milk to donate, please try to get it to a HMBANA bank. If you have money to part with, please consider donating to the cause.


  1. Anonymous Anonymous | 11:30 AM |  

    Wow, I had no idea how the different types of milk banks work. Thanks for the info. I'm going to try to run a piece on this at my site sometime soon!


  2. Anonymous Anonymous | 7:36 AM |  


    I'm doing my part to get the word out: http://tinyurl.com/344wey

  3. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:09 PM |  

    I had 2 reasons for choosing the University of MN/Prolacta milk bank.
    First, according to HMBANA's web site, a donor needs to commit to donating 100 oz., and that some milk banks require a greater minimum donation. This is not the case for the University of MN/Prolacta donors; we can give as little or as much as we want.
    Second, also according to HMBANA web site, there is no HMANA bank in MN.
    I think the service is most important, not the provider's name. I doubt the baby cares which company provides the milk.

  4. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:52 PM |  


    The International Breast Milk Project approached Prolacta to assist them with their donations to South Africa and they agreed. Prolacta handles all IBMP donations, from screenings and pasturization to providing pumps, and as payment they keep 75% of the milk, donating the 25% free of charge. For the 75% they keep, they pay $1 per ounce to fund the IBMP.

    I don't know enough about what they do with the 75% to make an informed opinion, but I do know that they concentrate the milk like formula (maybe powder?). Perhaps this keeps the milk longer... I do know that when my preemie was in the hospital I would have rather had a scoop of dried human milk be added to my breastmilk rather then the formula they used. I stopped fortifying when I got home because my baby would have obvious stomach cramping, constipation, and gas from the formula. With just breastmilk he does great, so he's just going to be a little small for a while.

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