Family First: Breast milk breakthrough

Family First: Breast milk breakthrough

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Breast milk is a hot commodity these days, but the way some companies are coming by it has created a bit of controversy.

For more than a year, mom Nicole Hutchinson's routine included feeding her baby, pump extra breast milk, bring coolers of it to her local non profit milk bank and it added up. Nicole donated more than 3,200 ounces of breast milk.

"I decided to donate my breast milk whenever I discovered that I had a really abundant supply," says Nicole.

We found the need for extra supply is huge because there's a breast milk donation and research explosion underway. Experts say more mothers than ever are donating to non profit milk banks and the number of mothers pumping milk for compensation is also increasing. If you search online, some moms are being offered about a dollar an ounce by companies that turn the milk into a commercial product formulated to help babies in need.

"The industry of commercializing human milk products is certainly growing. Private companies compensating women for their breast milk shows them that there's a clear value to this very powerful tissue," says Dr. Lars Bode, Associate Professor at UC San Diego.

Why the milk rush? There's a critical demand for human milk to feed premature infants. Studies show that at least one commercial product made with breast milk and hospitals using donations from non profit milk banks can help preemies who may not be able to ingest their mother's breast milk.

"What's very interesting is that when mother delivers prematurely, her milk initially is a little different than if she had had the baby on time," says Dr. Lisa M. Stellwagen, a Pediatrician at UC San Diego.

Researchers are also studying human milk to see if it could have benefits for adults, possibly improve the immune system, fight infection and even help Crohn's disease.

"We are probably far from understanding fully what is the benefits of human milk. There's still so much more to discover," says Dr. Bode.

As research on breast milk grows, so do worries about a donation supply and demand problem. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America says now non profit milk banks are competing with companies compensating women for their donations.

"There's approximately 60,000 mothers in the United States that could donate breast milk to babies. We know that right now the amount of donors that we have donating their milk to nonprofit mothers milk banks isn't enough to meet those needs," says John Honaman of the Human Milk Banking Association.

Nicole says she's thrilled to be one of the mom's who did donate.

"It's a gift to feed your child and it's a blessing to be able to share that gift with others."

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