Human Milk Banking

A mother-to-mother lifeline during emergencies


I received an email announcing the opening of Portland Oregon’s first human milk “depot” at Portland Adventist Medical Center. The depot, only the second in the Pacific Northwest, collects human milk donations for medically fragile infants and children. The milk is shipped to a milk processing plant in San Francisco and distributed to babies in need. There are plans to eventually open a milk “bank” here in Portland for mothers unable to produce breast milk themselves. Portland is a big breastfeeding city. Around 90 percent of our new moms start out breastfeeding. Starting out is one thing. Sticking with it is another. Sometimes life gets in the way.
Virtually all health experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; American Academy of Family Physicians; Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine; World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and continuing for a full year. Exclusive means breast milk only – no water, juice, formula, baby food or anything else. (Good God, don’t put soda in that bottle). Breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for babies and protects against a world of diseases.
Portland Adventist Milk Depot scheduled their press release to coincide with World Breastfeeding Week (August 1 – 7, 2009). This year’s theme (celebrated in 150 countries and sponsored by The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA)) is protection and support of breastfeeding during emergencies. The website displays beautiful photos of women around the world breastfeeding their gorgeous children and heart-breaking stories of women living through natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes and human disasters like famine and war.
During emergencies, mothers and babies may be separated and breastfeeding interrupted. All too often, Mom doesn’t get enough food or water to produce milk and next thing you know, there’s nothing to feed the baby. These mothers might find formula (often donated by relief agencies) but might not have access to clean water. She’ll use whatever she can and in her desperation may end up feeding her baby contaminated, bacteria-laden milk that makes her baby sick. This tragedy happens all around the world every day.
WBW sponsors educational outreach opportunities all over the world to bring this issue to light. During emergencies, mothers must continue breastfeeding in order to keep her baby alive. Anything else is risky and may lead to death.
What kind of emergencies do mothers in America face that threaten their ability to breastfeed? During Hurricane Katrina, thousands of breastfeeding mothers dealt with dehydration, hunger, separation from their infants and many days where no water or help arrived. Babies died.
Emergencies happen every day to individual women and families that make it impossible to breastfeed. This subject is so close to home, writing about it gives me a stomach ache, but here goes: My youngest daughter was barely three months old when I discovered I had metastatic breast cancer. Within days, my baby went from being exclusively breastfeed (as were all my other babies) to being abruptly weaned. I live in America where formula and the water supply are both clean and plentiful. Using donated human milk wasn’t an option for us at that time. Nine years later, my daughter and I are both fine. We were lucky our emergency happened in America.
Portland Adventist’s milk depot provides mother-to-mother support during personal emergencies. World Breastfeeding Week supports mothers in the global community. Breast is best. In times of emergency, it may be a matter of life and death.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.
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