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Moms Donate Breast Milk to Breast Cancer Survivor’s Newborn

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This is an amazing story from Brooklyn, New York.  A group of moms is donating breast milk to a new mom who can’t breastfeed her newborn because she had a double mastectomy.  Here’s an excerpt from the New York Daily News:

A 40-year-old cancer survivor is collecting breast milk from dozens of her Brooklyn neighbors to help feed her 3-week-old son.

Eva van Dok Pinkley can’t nurse Oliver herself because of a double mastectomy. Twenty-five women have already stepped up, pumping milk and donating it to the Carroll Gardens mom.

“What they are doing, it’s not easy to do,” Pinkley said. “I’m just stunned at the amount of trouble that they are going through for me. I think of them and what they have done and give thanks.”

The actress and researcher for “House Beautiful” magazine has endured multiple miscarriages and two rounds of failed fertility treatments. By the time she was diagnosed in April 2010 with noninvasive breast cancer, she had given up on having children of her own.

But a mere two months after her double-mastectomy, she got pregnant. Pinkley knew right away that if she carried the baby to full term, she wanted to use breast milk. She just hadn’t figured out how…

Finding Breast Milk on the Internet

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This CNN story is the latest in a burst of press about the growing movement to buy breast milk on the Internet. More and more, it seems mothers are using technology to find a modern day equivalent of a “wet nurse.”  There’s the Facebook group called Eats on Feets and there is also Only The Breast.com

But this option is not without controversy.  Tanya of the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog outlines some of the issues. And recently, The FDA  issued this statement:

Consider the possible safety risks

If you are considering feeding a baby with human milk from a source other than the baby’s mother, you should know that there are possible health and safety risks for the baby.  Risks for the baby include exposure to infectious diseases, including HIV, to chemical contaminants, such as some illegal drugs, and to a limited number of prescription drugs that might be in the human milk, if the donor has not been adequately screened.  In addition, if human milk is not handled and stored properly, it could, like any type of milk, become contaminated and unsafe to drink.

FDA recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet

When human milk is obtained directly from individuals or through the Internet, the donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk.  In addition, it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby.

FDA recommends that if, after consultation with a healthcare provider, you decide to feed a baby with human milk from a source other than the baby’s mother, you should only use milk from a source that has screened its milk donors and taken other precautions to ensure the safety of its milk.

There are human milk banks that take voluntary steps to screen milk donors, and safely collect, process, handle, test, and store the milk.  In a few states, there are required safety standards for such milk banks.  FDA has not been involved in establishing these voluntary guidelines or state standards.

You can contact your state’s department of health to find out if it has information on human milk banks in your area.  Another source of information is the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), a voluntary professional association for human milk banks (http://www.hmbana.org/. disclaimer icon).  HMBANA issues voluntary safety guidelines for member banks on screening donors, and collecting, processing, handling, testing and storing milk.

How Breast Milk Protects Babies From Harmful Bacteria

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The New York Times has a fascinating story today about a study focusing on the composition of breast milk.  Researchers have found that breast milk contains complex sugars that protect babies from harmful bacteria.  Put on your science hats for a minute now… here’s a link to the actual study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  And boiled down into plain english, is the story from the New York Times:

A large part of human milk cannot be digested by babies and seems to have a purpose quite different from infant nutrition — that of influencing the composition of the bacteria in the infant’s gut…

The details of this three-way relationship between mother, child and gut microbes are being worked out by three researchers at the University of California, Davis — Bruce German, Carlito Lebrilla and David Mills. They and colleagues have found that a particular strain of bacterium, a subspecies of Bifidobacterium longum, possesses a special suite of genes that enable it to thrive on the indigestible component of milk.

This subspecies is commonly found in the feces of breast-fed infants. It coats the lining of the infant’s intestine, protecting it from noxious bacteria…

The indigestible substance that favors the bifido bacterium is a slew of complex sugars derived from lactose, the principal component of milk. The complex sugars consist of a lactose molecule on to which chains of other sugar units have been added. The human genome does not contain the necessary genes to break down the complex sugars, but the bifido subspecies does, the researchers say in a review of their progress in today’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The complex sugars were long thought to have no biological significance, even though they constitute up to 21 percent of milk. Besides promoting growth of the bifido strain, they also serve as decoys for noxious bacteria that might attack the infant’s intestines. The sugars are very similar to those found on the surface of human cells, and are constructed in the breast by the same enzymes. Many toxic bacteria and viruses bind to human cells by docking with the surface sugars. But they will bind to the complex sugars in milk instead. “We think mothers have evolved to let this stuff flush through the infant,” Dr. Mills said…

“We were astonished that milk had so much material that the infant couldn’t digest,” Dr. German said. “Finding that it selectively stimulates the growth of specific bacteria, which are in turn protective of the infant, let us see the genius of the strategy — mothers are recruiting another life-form to baby-sit their baby.”…

The story goes on to say that the researchers are investigating how their findings could be used to help premature infants and the elderly.