"In some parts of the country, you still get dirty looks if you breastfeed in public. But in Portland, not so much," said lactation consultant Peggy Andrews, RN, looking over a map of human breast milk banks in the United States. Portland is poised to become the 11th city to host a breast milk donor center, providing bottles of "liquid gold" to babies and other patients in need.
Portland's milk bank at Southeast Portland Adventist hospital is still humble—the freezer that will hold bottles of milk was empty this morning and Andrews needs $125,000 in pasteurization and computer equipment to really get the project off the ground. Currently, any milk donated in Portland is wrapped up in an air mail package and shipped to the closest breast milk bank, in San Jose, where it's pasteurized and then shipped out again around the country. All that jetplaning raises the cost of of breast milk to $4.50 an ounce. Last year, the San Jose milk bank shipped 250,000 ounces of breast milk around the west coast.
Still no luck (or maybe just another hurdle) for Savage Love readers who want to make their own breast milk cheese: people can only obtain milk from the donor center with a prescription. Even babies need prescriptions to get a taste of someone else's breast milk, though people who have weakened immune systems (like cancer and transplant patients) can also be prescribed breast milk to help rebuild their bodies.
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Today Andrews is getting 25 bottles of milk from a Portlander who cleared the all-organic standards of a milk screening. Aspiring breast milk donors cannot smoke, be sick or take any medication other than birth control and pre-natal vitamins. Lots of moms overproduce breast milk and have to stockpile it while babies born prematurely either have to drink donor milk or straight baby formula. "I've had a bunch of moms call in and say, 'I just have a freezer full of milk, my husband wants me to empty the freezer,'" says Andrews. Breast milk, it turns out, can be frozen and used up for a year after it's pumped out.
It's no big surprise, but Portland has a very high rate of moms who breast feed, according to the Center for Disease Control. Ninety-one percent of Portland moms breast feed versus a national average of 73 percent. Back when Andrews was breastfeeding her kids in the last 60s, she says, only three percent of American women were still breastfeeding their kids at age three months. "It was pretty much just the hippies," she recalls. These days, nurses are trying to get every mom to breast feed. Portland hospitals St. Vincent and Legacy Emanuel ship in donor breast milk for premature babies, while OHSU still uses primarily baby formula despite breast milk's proven health benefits.
To donate your own breast milk, drop the Northwest Women's Milk Bank a line.
Hat tip to Adrianne Jeffries.
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