Execs in Desperate Need of Donor Breast Milk (part 3)

Part 3. The Haiti Milk Mix-up

What happened to all the milk donated for Haiti?
Soon after I started this blog and got a Twitter account, I saw a flurry of requests for donor milk to save Haitian orphans (this was shortly after the earthquake).  A press release asking for milk  was "going viral" in the breastfeeding community - one from some very trustworthy sources, including La Leche League, HMBANA, and the ILCA.  Like many, I was really moved by these requests and sorry that since my youngest is two and nurses mostly for comfort, I don't make enough milk to donate. 

Later on, I started to see reports that donor milk might not actually be able to get to Haiti.  After that, I read this great article in the Sustainable Mothering blog about why donated breastmilk may not be the best way to help Haiti - for numerous reasons: Haiti, Hell, Good Intentions, and Breast Milk Donations.  So there was a big misunderstanding, it seems.  That total disconnect is described in an article from MSNBC excerpted below:

from Call for breast milk donations in Haiti goes bust

“Tell them not to send it,” said Eric Porterfield, a spokesman for the American Red Cross. “I’m 100 percent sure we didn’t ask for that.”

The international Emergency Nutrition Network has asked one group, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, to retract a press release this week that issued an “urgent call” for breast milk for orphaned and premature infants in Haiti, saying the donations contradict best practices for babies in emergencies.

Such donations pose problems of transportation, screening, supply and storage and create an “unfeasible and unsafe intervention,” according to a statement from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, or OFDA.

Simply trying to fill a need
Pauline Sakamoto, executive director of HMBANA, said the group was simply trying to help fill a need, if not in Haiti, then elsewhere. Donated milk that doesn't make it to Haitian babies will be diverted for use in the U.S. and Canada, she said.

“We don’t want to waste an ounce of milk. It’s very precious,” she said, adding.

The confusion started earlier this week when the milk bank group and several organizations — including heavy hitters like La Leche League International — urged nursing mothers to donate milk. While representatives for aid agencies such as the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and World Vision said there never was a need for donated milk, some agencies said they heard from workers at orphanages in Haiti who indicated that babies were going hungry.

“This was very grass roots,” said Amanda Nickerson, executive director of the International Breast Milk Project.

So maybe this was all just a big misunderstanding. Or maybe the visceral reaction a nursing mother has to the type of horrific images of human suffering caused by the earthquake in Haiti was seen as an opportunity to stock up on milk (a point raised by blogger Valerie McClain).  I trust the organizations who signed off on the original press release had the earnest intent of helping Haitian orphans.  But who got that release underway?  Was it really "very grass roots," as the director of the Prolacta-partnered IMBP stated? Perhaps it was. It certainly was a big misunderstanding.

My concern is that the breastfeeding institutions and banks involved should have made more detailed plans and policy agreements with those on the ground in Haiti before sounding the call-to-boobs.  The thing that really bothers me is the idea that - hey, no big deal because "donated milk that doesn't make it to Haitian babies will be diverted for use in the U.S. and Canada." 

That's the same type of thinking behind showing donors pictures of needy children (in Africa or in the NICU) and then using their milk to make an unmentioned product that's sold by an unmentioned company (see the previous post, Part 2).   

Potential milk donors should not be told whatever it takes to get them in the door (or on the pump).  They should be respected as valued members of the process that brings breast milk or breast milk-derived therapeutics to those in need. 

This means banks should do their homework and provide a complete description about where the milk is going.  Fully inform and include breastmilk donors and the public- don't just show them pictures of sick babies and call it a day.  This applies to the Haiti solicitation, to Prolacta collection banks, and to any milk banks. Women who donate breastmilk are handing over liquid gold (see Part 1), and they don't need to be tricked or manipulated, they need to be respected. 

Next, Part 4: Will informing breast milk donors about the manufacture of costly therapeutics from their milk mean paying them as well?