In the United States, mothers investigate multiple sources of human milk for their babies when they themselves are unable to provide their own milk. Some are able to obtain milk from established Human Milk Banking Association of North America milk banks that have a standardized system of collecting milk and screening donors. Others turn to family members and close friends in a more informal milk sharing arrangement which may include breastfeeding the baby and/or sharing milk for breastmilk feeding. In this age of the internet, still others are using social networking tools to link up with mothers who may be willing to donate milk.
Much of the milk from these banks goes to ill or premature babies and thus their screening process for donors is fairly stringent. Mothers seeking milk for full-term, healthy babies may be unable to obtain milk from HMBANA banks or to afford the cost. Even for fragile babies, HMBANA milk may not be available due to lack of donors. It is a difficult situation. It would be wonderful if HMBANA banks were operating in every community and their milk was more available and affordable - a worthy project for any lactation group or hospital to undertake. It is unfortunate that access to formula is so much easier than finding a source for human milk. The risks of formula feeding have been well-documented. Depending on the situation, they can range from immediate risk of mortality from infections or SIDS to more long-range risks of increased rates of obesity, diabetes and some kinds of cancer. Some risks are more likely to pose immediate harm than others; some risks have a higher statistical probability than others. But the risk exists, there is no doubt about that.
*From WHO: Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, #18 (page 17):
“…..For those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative – expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or human-milk bank, or a breastmilk substitute ……depends on individual circumstances.”