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After Audra Murray’s twins were born at 30 weeks, her breast milk took its time coming in. A hormonal condition, coupled with the fact that the babies were too weak to nurse, wreaked havoc on her supply. “My milk took about two weeks to show up,” says Murray, 37, who lives in Newton, Mass. “I was pumping every two hours every day, but my milk didn’t come in until I took Reglan [a drug that increases the milk-making hormone prolactin].”
She wanted to give her preemies every benefit possible, so instead of formula, Murray chose to give the twins donated milk for their first two weeks of life. She continued to supplement her own milk with donated milk for three months, until her babies were strong and coordinated enough to latch on properly.
There are other reasons a woman may not be able to breastfeed. Mastectomy, breast-reduction surgery, certain communicable illnesses and some medications can hamper breastfeeding or make it unadvisable, says Susan Rothenberg, M.D., associate director of obstetrics at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. That’s why some women, like Murray, opt to use other mothers’ milk. Formula just doesn’t have the potent health benefits of breast milk—whether it’s your own or someone else’s.
“Another woman’s milk is a great second choice,” says Naomi Bar-Yam, Ph.D., executive director of the Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England in Newton, Mass. “Breast milk strengthens a baby’s immune system in ways that formula can’t— and it’s more easily digested.”
Here’s a look at the ways you might get your baby the breast milk he needs—even if it isn’t your own.
There are 12 milk banks affiliated with the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), which sets standards and guidelines for donor milk banking in the U.S. and Canada. In 2008, these banks sent 1.4 million ounces of breast milk to hospitals and individuals in 80-plus cities.
Here’s how the process works: Milk banks receive milk from lactating moms who’ve been screened for health/lifestyle behaviors and communicable diseases. The donor sends her frozen milk to one of the banks, where it’s thawed, pooled with other donors’ milk and heat-treated to kill bacteria and viruses. The milk is refrozen and prepared for shipment only after a sample has been cultured and shows no bacterial growth. It is then shipped frozen to hospitals and individuals in need. “If your baby is not in the hospital, you’ll need to get a prescription from your doctor faxed to us,” says Pauline Sakamoto, R.N., P.H.N., M.S., the San Jose, Calif.-based president of the HMBANA. “Then we’ll call the mom and ask how much she needs.”