Mother’s Milk Bank of North Texas said donor breastmilk could mean the difference between life and death for babies born prematurely.
“This is a call to action for every mother with a child under the age of one years old, who is lactating and able to pump or manually express an extra half ounce or ounce per day and put it in the freezer, to contact a nonprofit milk bank nearest to them to be screened,” said Amy Vickers, executive director of Mother’s Milk Bank of North Texas.
COVID-19 brought a surplus of donor milk but now that the economy is recovering, Vickers said the supply at Mother’s Milk Bank of North Texas is waning while demand is increasing.
“We worried that supply would go down as people got sick but, in reality, what happened is that the number of donors increased and it was likely due to the fact that women were now working from home with their babies or toddlers,” Vickers told Dallas Express. “They were breastfeeding them but because they didn’t know when they would go back to the office, they were also pumping and making more than enough milk for their babies and storing a whole bunch in the freezer.”
Last year, Vickers said the milk bank was able to serve about 8,000 babies with 1,860 donors.
“Texas is fortunate to have two non-profit milk banks,” she said. “One is located in Austin and one is in Fort Worth. The two milk banks serve every single Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in the state. We also serve some hospitals outside of the state. Besides serving babies who are in NICU, we also serve babies in the community and they’re mostly babies who were discharged from the NICU who are still medically dependent on human milk but their mothers do not have enough milk or has no milk at all.”
After a study found that breast milk heated to 63 degrees Celsius lost its COVID infectability, demand for donor milk skyrocketed.
“Pasteurization destroys COVID,” Vickers said in an interview. “Because of the studies showing that donor human milk is safe, we are experiencing an increase in the need for donor human milk. As mothers who are sick and separated from their infant are unable to provide milk, their babies need donor human milk.”
Safe donor human milk at Mothers’ Milk Bank in California is not only pasteurized but also carefully vetted, which is why Vickers frowns upon informal sharing.
“You have to go through a screening process similar to what you would go through if you were donating blood or any other body tissue,” she said. “You have to be screened for lifestyle and medical history to make sure that you don’t have risk factors that would spread a communicable disease through your tissue.”
Blood work includes testing for HIV, Syphilis, and Hepatitis B and C.
“When researchers purchased a hundred samples of human milk over the internet, they tested and found they were much higher in bacteria types and numbers of individual bacteria, which is probably because the women who are sharing informally don’t get education from milk banks about proper ways of expressing and storing their milk,” Vickers said. “Researchers also found that a significant portion of the milk wasn’t even human milk. It had the DNA of animals. So, you just don’t know who you are getting milk from when you order it on the internet. It’s scary.”
A study cited by Medicinenet.com found that 10% of human donor breast milk samples obtained online were contaminated with cow’s milk, according to a Nationwide Children’s Hospital study in Columbus, Ohio.
“Informally shared milk or sold milk doesn’t have a screening or testing component,” Vickers added. “We make sure that milk is pasteurized and has every single bit of bacteria in it destroyed.”
Whether a milk donor is vaccinated is less of concern to Vickers.
About 57% of Texans have received at least one dose and 47% are fully vaccinated, according to USA Facts vaccine tracker.
“We are not segregating milk,” she said. “When we process milk to give to these babies we are mixing anywhere from two to six milk donors in one pool of milk so that we can verify that we get some milk from moms who are vaccinated to make sure that the immune benefits in each pool of milk are as wide as possible.”
Since the advent of the coronavirus, a University of Florida study published in Science Daily found that breast milk of vaccinated nursing mothers could potentially transmit the protection against coronavirus infection to their infants.
“We know that the antibodies that moms develop against COVID, whether because they had the disease or because they are vaccinated, are present in the milk,” Vickers said. “It’s too soon to know whether those antibodies are protecting the infant, but we know that other antibodies to other illnesses in the milk are protecting the babies. So, we believe that it’s likely the antibodies for COVID are protecting the babies as well. We want milk with antibodies in it.”
In the event the call for donor milk is not answered, Mother’s Milk Bank of North Texas could potentially be left with no choice but to turn babies away, according to Vickers.
“It will not be more than a month from now before we will have to compromise who is given human donor milk if the downward trend continues,” she said. “We don’t want to be in that situation.”