What Are Milk Banks?

Although still common in some developing countries, wet nurses are a relic of years past in the United States. Or are they?

Meet the milk bank: a wet nurses' modern day equivalent. Milk banks provide a unique breast milk option for premature infants (the most frequent recipients), full-term babies with gastrointestinal disorders, and sometimes adopted babies or mothers who can't nurse their own healthy babies.

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America oversees milk banks, which must follow strict guidelines developed with the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for collecting, screening, processing and distributing donated human milk. The milk comes from lactating mothers who have been screened for health behaviors and communicable diseases, similar to the way that donors are screened at blood banks. Milk bank donors must be nonsmokers, not regularly taking medications (including megavitamins), not taking certain medications or consume alcohol within specified exclusion periods.

Milk is transported frozen to the milk bank, where milk from several donors is pooled after thawing, pasteurized to kill bacteria or viruses, and then refrozen. Milk is dispensed only after a sample is cultured and shows no bacteria growth, and is shipped frozen by overnight express to hospitals and individuals. A doctor's prescription or hospital purchase order is required to obtain breast milk.

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Food & Nutrition Magazine publishes articles on food and diet trends, highlights of nutrition research and resources, updates on public health issues and policy initiatives related to nutrition, and explorations of the cultural and social factors that shape Americans’ diets and health.