Drulis compares the extensive screening of milk donors to blood bank screening. “Women first go through a verbal screening, and then there’s a written screening,” she says. “We then draw blood and have it tested for Hepatitis B and C, HIV 1 and 2, and HTLV 1 and 2. Once that screen is passed, we also ask the mother’s and baby’s physicians if they know of any reason why this mother shouldn’t become a milk donor.” Mothers must be non-smokers and taking no medications or herbs during the time they pump the milk.
Once a woman passes the health screening, she is taught the proper techniques for collecting and shipping milk, which is then pasteurized at the milk bank.
“The pasteurizing kills bacteria and viruses,” says Drulis. “And we do a bacterial screening after the pasteurization process.” She says the heat treatment does not kill off the beneficial immunologic and nutritional properties of the milk, which is subsequently frozen awaiting delivery.
Although there are only 10 donor human milk banks in the United States, a family does not have to live near a milk bank to receive a donation. “We charge a processing fee of $3.25 per ounce of milk, which includes shipping,” says Borman, “and we can ship it just about anywhere overnight on dry ice.”
Becoming a Donor
Without the loving gift of donor milk, milk banks could not exist. “The donors don’t receive any compensation, and so they do it because they want to help mothers,” says Drulis. “They believe in breastfeeding, and when other mothers cannot provide breast milk for their babies, these women want to help.”