You've probably seen people asking for breast milk donations on your social media feed more than once. They are often for newborns who need it the most — infants who lost their moms when they were born, babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, or even infants whose hometowns have been stricken by calamity.
The good news is there is always a mom or a community of moms who share their breast milk, keen on helping another family get the same benefits that their baby has been getting. Many donate to the Philippine Human Milk Bank, which has been collecting breast milk donations and providing liquid gold to infants in the neonatal intensive care units.
At the Smart Parenting "All About Baby" Workshop (co-presented by Belo Baby last April in Discovery Suites), one dad (yes, dad!) raised a question about sharing breast milk: how safe is it to get breast milk from a milk bank? By association, it raised another concern: is community-donated breast milk also safe?
Workshop speaker Sylvia Malabanan, a lactation counselor from L.A.T.C.H. Philippines, assured parents present that breast milk from a human milk bank is 100-percent safe. "Before a mother can donate breast milk to a milk bank, she would have to answer a lot of questions about her family and medical history, for starters," she said. (Read more about a mom experience on donating breast milk here).
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"If a mom is qualified to donate, the milk bank would then pasteurize your breast milk, so it is really, very safe," Malabanan stressed. That's on top of providing strict instructions how to handle and transport breast milk.
"But [breast milk from a milk bank] is also very, very expensive," she added. One ounce of breast milk could cost about Php200.
The lactation counselor estimated that one year's worth of donated breast milk from a milk bank would cost about a million pesos. Aside from offering precious benefits to baby, it's probably part of the reason why it's called "liquid gold."
As for the safety of community-donated breast milk, Malabanan, who is a mom who breastfed all three of her kids, says it is a decision that comes down to a mother's preference and her baby's need for it. Concerns about getting breast milk from a stranger is valid. You don't know how she handled the milk or her health history. You want to get from a friend or at least someone who is vouched by a friend, but that isn't always possible especially when a baby needs it badly.
What can perhaps ease the mind of parents who need breast milk is those who do donate know the protocols or make sure to educate themselves. There is no question of their intent: they want to help. These moms are blessed with an abundant supply of breast milk. There are those who have weaned their kids but still have breast milk leftover. It's all based on a trust system that you can, well, trust.