NCBA CLUSA member Mother’s Milk Cooperative (MMC) is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving access to donor milk and resolving the critical shortage of donor milk that is impacting the lives of premature and sick infants globally. It is currently the first and only milk bank in the United States to offer payment for donated milk.
Research has shown that with premature babies breast milk can be a life saving intervention, helping to stave off potentially fatal infections in immune compromised infants not born full term. However, many moms of premature babies are not able to provide breast milk to their newborns.
MMC’s CEO Adrianne Weir teamed up with her mother, an expert in the field of human milk and its use in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), to solve what they saw as a problem in milk banks. Under the existing model, women donate their milk to a milk bank, which subsequently tests the milk and sells it, profit is not returned to the donor. “We felt that mothers are taking their time to pump and making a huge effort to donate and were basically receiving no gain other than the warm fuzzy feeling for doing something that’s good,” said Weir. “We started this project together to redefine milk banking and provide benefit to moms making a meaningful difference in the lives of babies, and to bring some of the benefits back to them. I like to say we’re helping moms helping babies,” added Weir.
Using the cooperative model, MMC can redirect some of the financial gain to donors-members who are working so hard to provide breast milk to the milk bank. Since launching in May of 2013, the co-op has received applications from nearly 700 women who are in the process of becoming donor-members. The co-op also offer categories of membership for families wishing to receive milk for their babies, as well as corporate healthcare institutions who wish to purchase milk for their NICUs.
The majority of donor-members strive to stay home longer with their babies as many work hourly jobs where paying for daycare and working just doesn’t make financial sense. “It’s extremely rewarding using the cooperative model, we regularly receive feedback from donor-members. Right now we are the first and only milk bank in the United States to offer payment for donated milk,” said Weir. MMC’s “Milk Money” program offers moms a dollar per ounce for donated milk. “One woman called me to let me know that because of our “Milk Money” program she was able to quit her job, stay home with her kids, and go back to college,” added Weir.
All donors in order to become qualified are required to undergo rigorous screening by the American Red Cross. Once received, donated milk from donor-members is extensively tested for drugs and any tampering, including dilution or adding another species’ milk, in order make sure the co-op offers the safest product possible. By partnering with her mother’s company Neolac, Weir has been able to develop a process to produce the first commercially sterile donor milk that has shelf life of more than one year and can be stored at room temperature. “When we were first starting out my concept was that until donor milk is as easy to use as formula it’s never going to become as common as formula,” said Weir. “This is the first donor milk configured in such a way that its convenient to use. Every other donor milk product is frozen and requires thawing, which can potentially increase the bacterial bioburden; a number of pathogens can remain in the frozen donor milk after pasteurization and could cause food borne illness in an immune compromised or sick infant.”
What started as a mission to create a milk bank for contemporary moms is quickly growing into a resource for new moms seeking information on breastfeeding. “We receive a lot of feedback telling us that we’re the only source of breastfeeding support that many of these moms have, so the co-op is a bit of a family for them,” said Weir.
The co-op’s first lot of donor milk will be released in January 2014 to many hospitals and families excited about the product and its ease of use. For more information about Mother’s Milk Cooperative, visit www.mothersmilk.coop and ‘Like’ their page on Facebook.