Archive for the 'International Breast Milk Project' Category


Just Noticed This…

February 12th, 2008 by MamaBear

I just noticed that The Lactivist’s Tuesday, June 05, 2007 post on The International Breast Milk Project accurately reflects the current reality with the IBMP and Prolacta now (Hm. I recently noticed Prolacta.com looks different — different colors and different pictures and different overall format — kind of annoying since before it was more technical and straightforward — though woefully incomplete — and now it’s more “soft” and “vague” and “wishy-washy” — and still missing a lot of really important information. When someone’s primary motivation is making a profit, you gotta wonder about these things…).

I want to thank her (The Lactivist) personally for updating her original, breakthrough thoughts on the IBMP with this thorough post: Thank you, Jennifer. :)

Please read her post. She has captured a lot of the concerns I’ve been writing about with regard to Prolacta and the IBMP. As a recipient (Jennifer is writing from the perspective of a donor), I can agree with most of what she has to say. I am not a capitalist at heart. I have learned to work within The Patriarchal Machine, and I do it really well, but I really do believe in a true democracy, where money doesn’t really matter (and everyone is equally important). But that information is not really that relevant to this particular post of mine. It’s really important that y’all read what Jennifer has to say regarding “What This News Doesn’t Change” and “Where Does This Leave You?” if you’re thinking of formal milk donation (unlike informal milk donation — like MilkShare, which for me as a mother who has desperately needed breastmilk for my child on numerous occasions and gotten it through there, has been a Godsend).

Please read her post. It’s very important. Don’t miss it.

Thank you. The International Breastfeeding Symbol Website and Blog thanks you.

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A Philosophical Question

October 20th, 2007 by MamaBear

If you know a person is lying and making lots of money by lying, but they’re also doing a little bit of good within all that lying, does it make the lying O.K.? This is an honest, open-ended question, which I still have no answer for.

Now, completely different topic (lest you think that question above has anything to do with what I’m about to report)… Jill Youse is in the news again! She is ABC News’ Person of the Week this week. I almost died… Hyperventilating with laughter… When I saw that. Congratulations, Jill!

You know what I found really funny about the second ABC News report on the International Breast Milk Project? There was NO mention of a few really important details (which makes me think ABC News either did a sloppy job with this one or that these important details were deliberately not mentioned — why, I don’t know; could be for any number of reasons):

  1. Prolacta gets at least 75% of the milk donated to the International Breast Milk Project. According to the IBMP website, this 75% of the donated breastmilk is exchanged for a $1/ounce “donation” from Prolacta (in other words, Prolacta buys at least 75% of whatever is donated to the IBMP for $1/ounce). On an older version of the IBMP website, it used to say that 100% of this money would be donated to various African outreach organizations (like the Lewa Children’s Home in Eldoret, Kenya). None of that money was actually donated, and then when I (and another blogger) started asking questions about the “100%,” the IBMP website was changed to say that, actually, some of that money would go to “operational expenses” within the IBMP. How convenient. It was vague enough that now there’s no telling how much will go to “operational expenses” within the U.S. and how much will go to Africa.
  2. The money received by the International Breast Milk Project in exchange for breastmilk, which, to date, is estimated at over $50,000 (probably well over double that figure by now, given how much time has elapsed, but let’s be conservative), was not mentioned in the ABC News report at all. The money the IBMP claims to have sent to Africa on its “September Update” page was donated privately, some of it by Prolacta’s other milk funnel, The National Milk Bank, to the IBMP. From the IBMP website:

    “Because of your generosity, in addition to shipping thousands of ounces of donor milk to iThemba Lethu in Durban, South Africa, we have donated $13,000 to the Lewa Children’s Home in Kenya, another $15,000 for clean water and health care projects in Tanzania, and $5,100 for hospital equipment in Cameroon through Dr. Peter McCormick’s Beryl Thyer Memorial Africa Trust.”

    All that money the IBMP allegedly sent to Africa? The IBMP sent it before May 31, 2007… Before the IBMP allegedly started receiving money from Prolacta in exchange for the milk (according to Jill Youse, through email correspondence). All that money was privately donated, some of it from the National Milk Bank (again, according to Jill Youse, through email). Any money the IBMP made and donated after May 31, 2007, there is STILL no mention of anywhere, not on the IBMP website, not from Jill Youse through email correspondence (I asked, and last I heard from her, none of the money had been donated yet), and certainly not in the ABC News report. I do not know if the money has already been donated, or if it’s being put in a bank awaiting donation for the “early 2008″ construction of the Lewa Children’s Home clinic, or if it’s being used mostly to cover “operational expenses” now. Speaking of “operational expenses,” it’s difficult to know what percentage of the money made from selling milk to Prolacta will make its way to Africa. The ABC News report didn’t even mention money, so it’s not like I’m looking at ABC News as a reliable IBMP update information source, kwim?

  3. The ABC News report did not mention the dates of the milk shipments, or even how many total shipments to Africa have been made since the IBMP was founded. According to my tally (which was established by calling South Africa and asking Penny Reimers at iThemba Lethu how many shipments she received), there have been a total of four shipments already sent to Africa, not including the one that allegedly will be done now. If the 50,000+ ounces of breastmilk actually make their way to Africa (which I am confident that they will, since it’s so highly publicized), that will bring the grand total of shipments the IBMP has made since April 28, 2006 (the date of the first shipment) to FIVE (please, Anna Coutsoudis or Penny Reimers, if you can confirm or correct this, write me and I will). The total number of ounces donated by the IBMP to Africa would then be around 62,000 ounces in a year and six months. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, in absolute terms it is a lot, but if you compare it to the amount of milk the IBMP has received from generous breast milk donors, it’s actually a pittance. The IBMP received an estimated 65,000 ounces of breastmilk from its generous donors in just two months (June and July 2007)!!! From the IBMP “August 2007 Update” letter: “In June, we collected over 30,000 ounces of milk, and in July we collected over 35,000 ounces of milk.” If you assume the IBMP only receives half the lowest amount (30,000 ounces) for August and September, that’s an additional 30,000 ounces, also not going to Africa (because, according to the IBMP, the 50,000+ ounces of milk going to Africa right now were all donated before May 31, 2007). Details, details…

The first ABC News report on the International Breast Milk Project (aired October 4, 2006) also had a few important details missing. For instance, the report aired on October 4, 2006 and there was no mention of Prolacta. The milk that arrived in Africa for the second shipment (the one filmed in the first ABC News report) was raw breastmilk, unpasteurized. That shipment was delivered free by DHL. Prolacta had not officially partnered with the IBMP when the footage was filmed, but the partnership with Prolacta was in effect by the time the report aired (October 4, 2006). Oh, but it’s just details, and nobody will notice, right? Nobody except anyone who’s paying attention.

Look, I have nothing against a project that sends breastmilk to African orphans. Who would have a problem with a program like that? It’s altruism; it’s a beautiful, touching concept. More importantly, it gets people talking about (and therefore, normalizing) breastmilk (and by proxy, breastfeeding and lactation). Does the IBMP do more harm than good? I don’t know. More good than harm? Hard to say. Does the IBMP do some good in the world? Clearly, yes, in many ways. Is the harm is does worth it? I don’t know. That’s the part I have trouble with. The partnership with Prolacta cannot be ignored, and is not without negative consequences.

My only point in writing any of what I write is so that people become more informed and more aware of what’s really going on behind the scenes. If you have all the information at your disposal and you still feel like it’s a net benefit to donate to the International Breast Milk Project (and you are fully aware that if you do, you will forfeit any rights to your milk and that the majority of your milk — very likely ALL of it, statistically speaking — will actually go to Prolacta and be sold for a profit here in the United States and NOT make its way to Africa), I have NO problem with that. The part I have a problem with is the NOT knowing. The part that bothers me is that some really generous women will donate their breastmilk thinking that what they’re signing up for is not what they’re actually signing up for. …If you catch my drift.

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Thinking of Donating Your Breastmilk? Read This First.

September 2nd, 2007 by MamaBear

Many women who pump for their babies often find that they have way more than their baby will ever consume. It is at this point that the thought of donating that extra milk to a needy baby comes to mind.

There are three ways of milk donation that are available so far:

  • Informal milk donation, mother-to-mother
  • Formal milk donation to a HMBANA milk bank, to help babies in the NICU
  • Formal milk donation to Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit milk processing company, usually through a milk depot that calls itself a “milk bank”

Breastmilk donation is one of the most beautiful, pure, and selfless acts a mother could do for another. Unfortunately, some people are exploiting this generosity and using it for their own ends. If you are a mother intent on donating your excess breast milk to help a needy baby, one option that will allow you to be sure that your intended recipient is a baby and not a for-profit milk processing company is informal milk donation. Informal milk donation is when you donate your breastmilk directly to the family that will be feeding their baby with it. The biggest hurdle with this for most milk donors and recipients seems to be finding a family near them that either needs milk or has a surplus of it.

The best option right now in North America for informal milk donation match-up is an organization called MilkShare. With MilkShare, you can meet your recipient and get to know your recipient family. The only fee involved is a one-time $15 fee for the recipient to join MilkShare. That is all, and $15 is a bargain compared to all the other options available to recipients out there. Donors join for free.

Another match-up organization which will hopefully be up and running soon is Milk Match. It is a forum that will be devoted exclusively to matching up donor and recipient moms informally, though it hasn’t started quite yet. It is not known at this time whether Milk Match will charge a fee for its services.

It is important when engaging in informal breast milk donation to get to know the family you are dealing with, both on the recipient and donor sides. For the recipient, it’s important to screen your breast milk donor by getting blood tests done, which should be at the recipient’s expense, and asking any relevant questions about lifestyle, the same way a milk bank would. The recipient could also learn to pasteurize the breast milk at home very easily and cheaply, if there is a concern about potential pathogens in the milk even after screening with a blood test. If applicable, the recipient should pay for shipping expenses; the donor should never have to incur any expense for donation. No money should be exchanged for the milk itself, as that may tarnish the altruism of the act.

For the donor, it’s important to make sure that the breastmilk you are so generously donating is going to a baby and not to an organization that will re-sell your milk (that’s why it’s important to get to know the family you’re donating to, in addition to the satisfaction of getting to know the baby you are helping to nourish with your milk!) It is an extremely rewarding act, the act of milk donation, when both recipient and donor know each other directly, without a middle-man.

However, there are many legitimate reasons to donate to HMBANA milk banks, a collection of eleven milk banks in North America, as well. HMBANA milk banks take breast milk donations from screened donors, pasteurize the donated milk, and provide it to needy babies in NICUs all across North America for a fee of $3.50/ounce. Often, raw donated breast milk can’t be given to delicate preemies because everything they come in contact with must be free from pathogens, and it is possible that unpasteurized donor milk could contain pathogens that for a normal infant wouldn’t cause a problem but in a preemie could be devastating. This is why HMBANA milk banks provide such a valuable service to the babies that need it the most, including abandoned babies who don’t have parents to advocate for them through MilkShare. What is especially compelling about HMBANA milk banks and what convinces me that they are truly there for the benefit of sick babies is that if the family cannot afford to pay $3.50/ounce for the milk, which is reportedly less than what it costs the HMBANA banks to process it, HMBANA banks will waive this fee for a critically ill baby. Truly, HMBANA milk banks are a godsend to babies in the NICU, regardless of whether or not they have a family to care for them, and regardless of whether their family can afford to pay for the pasteurized breastmilk.

There is a third option for breastmilk donation that everyone should be aware of but that I do not recommend. There are several milk depots across the United States that call themselves milk banks, but these “milk banks” are NOT affiliated with HMBANA milk banks at all. These “milk banks” don’t actually distribute milk to needy babies. These so-called “milk banks” are collection stations, sometimes freestanding, sometimes found inside hospitals or birthing centers, taking in milk to sell it directly to a company called Prolacta Bioscience (the price Prolacta pays for the raw milk ranges from $.50-$2/ounce). To all outward appearances, these milk depots look and sound like a real milk bank, but they do not distribute any milk to any babies, which is part of what real milk banks do.

Prolacta Bioscience, the company which processes the donated breast milk collected at these milk depots, is the only for-profit human milk processing company in the world. It processes donated breast milk and turns it into human milk fortifier, which is meant to be added to human milk, for preemies. What Prolacta doesn’t mention on any of its publications is that this human milk fortifier carries a price tag of $6.25/milliliter, which, when converted to ounces, is $184.83/ounce. This is alarming enough, but since Prolacta is a for-profit company and not in any way associated with HMBANA, if a family with a critically ill baby can’t pay or doesn’t have health insurance or Medicaid, they don’t get the human milk fortifier, even if their baby needs it. Additionally, there are no peer-reviewed studies so far that have even proven Prolacta’s human milk fortifier to be necessary. HMBANA milk banks already have the technology in place to provide preemies with higher-calorie milk, and preemies have already been known to thrive off of the HMBANA-provided milk, so the necessity of Prolacta’s human milk fortifier is questionable. Furthermore, if people donate to a Prolacta “milk bank” and give their breastmilk to Prolacta Bioscience instead of a HMBANA milk bank (both organizations have very similar screening criteria and thus receive donations from the same pool of donors), this depletes the supply going into HMBANA banks which means fewer preemies get the milk they so desperately need at a price that could be afforded.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only thing disturbing about the for-profit business model thus far. In addition to not easily disclosing the price of their human milk fortifier, and not explicitly informing its donors that their milk will be sold for a profit, Prolacta also reportedly has their donors sign a contract which essentially strips the donors of all the rights to their own breastmilk. Any royalties made off the sale of their breast milk, and any findings made from studying the components in their breast milk, the donors have no right to have. If Prolacta chooses to share their findings with their donors, it will be at Prolacta’s discretion, but the donors give up the right to any royalties or knowledge gleaned from the study of their breast milk the instant they sign a contract with Prolacta. Prolacta can patent components found in any of the human breast milk they receive, which means that Prolacta could potentially use these patented components, manufacture them, and sell them to formula companies so that formula can become even “closer to mother’s own milk.” This not only affects donors and recipients of Prolacta’s products today; it has the potential to affect breastfeeding for the future. If the public becomes convinced that formula is so close to mother’s milk that breastfeeding is unnecessary, then more people will choose to formula-feed instead of breastfeed, and the breastfeeding mothers that do remain will be seen as a societal “nuisance” because they insist on feeding their children in a way that’s “inconvenient” or “obsolete” or incompatible with the way society runs. As it is, with the advent of DHA and ARA being added to formulas to make them more like breast milk, already many people, including doctors, have the perception that formula is “just as good” or “almost as good” as breast milk, which is simply not true. Formula is still far inferior to breastmilk, for many, many reasons beyond talk of mere “components,” but even with the addition of 50 more components (not likely within this lifetime), formula would still be far inferior to breastmilk, given that there are at many hundreds of components in breast milk, many of which do not tolerate heat-treatment or sterilization, which all formula undergoes during manufacturing.

(Martek Bioscience owns the patent on DHA and ARA, for anyone that’s interested. DHA and ARA really are found in breast milk, and those components have been isolated in a lab and now are manufactured to be sold as supplements for adults and children or as additions to formula, so this concept of patenting manufactured breastmilk components isn’t some hokey-conspiracy science fiction fantasy. It’s happening now.)

I’m not saying improving formula for infants is a bad thing. Far from it. I have to supplement with formula for my own baby, so I want what I feed her to be as good as possible. The problem I have with this scheme is the way the donor milk is being obtained from generous donor moms and the implication that the addition of “breastmilk components” in formula has on the future of breastfeeding and mothers’ right to breastfeed. Is it possible that in the far future (100 years from now), women who choose to breastfeed be taxed by the government because the formula lobby insisted on it? If formula becomes perceived by the majority of the population as “just as good” as mothers’ milk, even if it isn’t, because of formula marketing (their marketing tactics are clearly working today, since even some doctors are convinced formula is “almost as good” as breastmilk), and if most voters are formula-feeders 100 years from now, it’s definitely possible. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my granddaughters and great-granddaughters to be taxed for breastfeeding.

All speculation aside, what I’m saying is, inform yourself. Ask lots of questions before donating to anyone. If you are interested in breast milk donation, especially in donating to a milk “bank” that is partnered with Prolacta, read the contract very carefully before signing, especially the parts about the rights you will be signing over to Prolacta. Prolacta often offers a free breast pump to its donors, and this offer can seem very attractive, but it’s not worth signing away all the rights to your own milk for a breast pump. If after asking all your questions, you have more questions than answers, you may want to consider donating elsewhere.

The following milk depots partner with Prolacta, which means that ALL the milk donations donated to the following milk “banks” are sold to Prolacta Bioscience for $.50-$2/ounce (usually $1/ounce). Prolacta then processes the raw donated breast milk and re-sells it for $184.83/ounce. Also, the following milk depots require donors to sign a contract which reportedly strips the donors of their rights to their own milk. None of the following milk “banks” distribute milk to needy babies:

The above list is not comprehensive and does not include all of the milk banks that partner with Prolacta. You need to ask the milk bank you donate your milk to whether or not Prolacta processes its milk in order to be sure.

The following organization partners with Prolacta and sells at least 75% of its milk donations to Prolacta Bioscience for $1/ounce:

It has still not been confirmed by the IBMP’s founder, Jill Youse, what has happened to all the money made from selling the milk to Prolacta thus far. 100% of that money, for three months (May 31, 2007-August 31, 2007), was promised toward the building of a health facility at the Lewa Children’s Home at Eldoret, Kenya. During those three months, the International Breast Milk Project reportedly earned at least $50,000 in sales of donated breastmilk to Prolacta (~$25,000 for June and ~$25,000 for July. It is not known how much was earned for August 2007). This amount of money still has NOT been sent to the Lewa Children’s Home, according to the IBMP. As of the date of this posting, many questions still remain unanswered about how much breastmilk and money are really going to Africa.

ETA:  The IBMP has updated their site a few times since the original posting of this entry.  Happily, according to the newly updated FAQ section of the IBMP site (which is ever-changing), the money in question was donated to Africa.  Hopefully the IBMP will continue its charitable efforts in Africa because, after all, that is the reason why the organization exists.

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Jill Youse Responds, And So Do I

August 30th, 2007 by MamaBear

I received a message from Jill Youse, founder of the International Breast Milk Project, who wrote me by using my contact form last night. She sent it twice. It was the following:

Hi Breastfeeding Symbol,

Thank you for suggesting that we update the FAQs, I will do that as soon as possible.

Just to clarify, we have donated funding already to Lewa (in conjunction with Run
for Africa, our sister organization) and moving forward we have identified Village
Life Outreach, the organization focused in improving health care for the three
villages in Tanzania as a recipient of the funding. Any other organizations
interested in receiving funding should email jill@breastmilkproject.org.

Please let me know if there is anything else I can clarify or update for you or feel
free to email me anytime at jill@breastmilkproject.org.

I really appreciate your feedback and anything else you can suggest so that I can
continue to serve you and other donating moms in the future as best as possible.

Jill Youse

The first thing I want to say is that I really appreciate you contacting me directly, Jill, and I have to admit that, upon reading this, my heart softened a little. I gotta hand it to you, you do have a way with words. When I read the message, I thought to myself, “Maybe the $20,000+/month she’s getting for selling the donated breastmilk to Prolacta is all going to help African orphans after all… Maybe, just maybe, all your suspicions about the IBMP based on your observations so far have been unwarranted, Mama Bear.”

I thought about it. And then I thought some more. I think “moving forward” onto Tanzania is great, fantastic, even, but I’m still wondering what happened to the children at the Lewa Children’s Home in Eldoret, Kenya.

“…we have donated funding already to Lewa…,” the message says, almost dismissively. That’s the only information on Kenya there is. But I have a few questions about that matter, so here’s my response:

Dear International Breast Milk Project,

When did the IBMP donate to the Lewa Children’s Home in Eldoret, Kenya?

How much (in US dollars) did the IBMP donate to the Lewa Children’s Home in Eldoret, Kenya?

Was the donation to the Lewa Children’s Home 100% of all the money the IBMP made while that figure (”100%”) was used on the IBMP website to collect more breastmilk donations? Because those questions are relevant and still unanswered.

I did notice that the IBMP FAQ page now has this addendum (added August 29, 2007):

Until now, International Breast Milk Project has been an all-volunteer organzition. [sic] As a result of the astounding and unexpected growth we have experienced over the past six months, we will be allocating a very small percentage of finincial [sic] donations to pay for program management and coordination of the International Breast Milk Project including a financial manager. This will ensure full accountability, progress, and transparency.

The typographical errors on “organization” and “financial” notwithstanding, I am assuming that the word “now” implies “August 29, 2007,” because that’s when that statement was written. This means that before August 29, 2007 (yesterday), the program management, coordination and financial stuff was taken care of by volunteers for free, right?

Volunteers don’t get paid a dime for their altruism. Or have some of those funds been “allocated” for some IBMP “volunteers” here in the United States? Or perhaps the volunteers didn’t get paid, but somebody has? In case you’re wondering, I don’t actually think that’s a problem, except in the case where this fact is not disclosed and something else is being implied. As of right this moment, no such fact has been disclosed and the implication is now (as of yesterday) that, other than a tiny percentage of the money made off donations, the great majority of the money will go straight to Africa. The wording also implies that this “allocation” hasn’t taken place yet, that it will take place sometime in the future (”we will be allocating” is what is written, instead of “we have allocated” or “we have been allocating”), so if the IBMP “has been allocating” already, that information STILL isn’t on the IBMP website, yet it should be, instead of “will be allocating.” Does that make sense? Also, I think people probably will want to know how much has been, is being, and will be allocated for operational expenses. It’s only fair that people be told up-front how much of what they donate in breastmilk will wind up making its way to Africa in the form of a monetary contribution, because it might change their decision to donate.

Before this addendum was written, I noticed that in every newspaper and magazine article about the International Breast Milk Project that I read (and I have read dozens, believe me!), the implication is very strong that nobody in the United States has ever made any money off this endeavor, that making money for people here in the United States is NOT the focus of the IBMP, and that all those IBMP volunteers (including Jill Youse) are running the IBMP out of the goodness of their hearts. So, I actually think it’s relevant to know if Jill Youse or anyone else is receiving any money from it to keep for themselves, and if so, for how long and how much, because the implication that the IBMP is doing it for free tends to open up people’s hearts and wallets, but, more importantly, it opens up lactating women’s freezers. I don’t think they’d be so eager to help out the International Breast Milk Project if they knew most of their milk were making already well-off Americans money more than it is helping African orphans. Does that make sense? I’m asking these questions, as uncomfortable as they are, because nothing on the IBMP website and in articles about the IBMP, and nothing that I’ve learned by talking on the phone with Prolacta and the people in South Africa reassures me that the opposite is true. In fact, when I read the IBMP website and after talking to people in South Africa, I’m uncomfortably led to believe that most of the money isn’t making its way to Africa (I already know the vast majority of the breastmilk isn’t). Please set the record straight about this, as I’m sure I’m not the only person curious about the answers to these very important questions.

To clarify my point, I was under the impression that 100% of the money made from the milk sold to Prolacta, 100% of that money would go to the Lewa Children’s Home. If 100% of that money didn’t go to the Lewa Children’s Home while that information was on the IBMP website…. 100%, remember? …If that didn’t happen, I want to know why.

I want to know what happened to all that money.

I want to know what percentage of the funds made off of selling donor milk acquired via the IBMP made it to the Lewa Children’s Home. Additionally, I want to know the dollar amount (in U.S. dollars, please) that made it to the Lewa Children’s Home in Eldoret, Kenya, as of today’s date: August 30, 2007.

And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I will be sending an email to jill@breastmilkproject.org with the information contained in this post, so that Jill Youse can have a chance to clarify all of this and update all of us. Thank you for your kind attention to this matter, IBMP.

Sincerely,

Mama Bear

P.S. I got Jill Youse’s other message, sent shortly after the first:

I went to the page….
http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://breastmilkproject.org

Worked for me…?

Jill Youse

Yes, I (and others) noticed that yesterday it started working perfectly, as well, after I posted what I did. Thanks for pointing that out, Jill. The day before, though, August 28, 2007, it was “experiencing technical difficulties” for the whole day. Also, and this may very well be the archive’s fault and not IBMP’s… Several FAQ pages are missing. Many, many months’ worth.

*******UPDATE*******UPDATE*******UPDATE*******

(The following is an edit to the above original post made September 1, 2007):

Jill responded to the post above by emailing me the following message:

Thanks so much for posting and helping me identify areas of
improvement. I will
work to answer all of your questions.

Good to see there are no hard feelings! I will be awaiting the answers from the IBMP (or Jill), which if everything is on the up-and-up, should be a cinch for the IBMP (or Jill) to answer.

Edit:  A lot of the links under the category of “Prolacta” and “International Breast Milk Project” don’t work anymore because they don’t go to the same place I originally linked to.  This is not anything I did; the changes were made externally.  I’ve chosen to leave the links there and issue this edit so that you, my readers, are aware of what has happened.

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The International Breast Milk Project Rewrites History?

August 29th, 2007 by MamaBear

Congratulations, International Breast Milk Project. You have officially lost all respectability and credibility as of today. There are a couple of reasons for this. All day today, it has been very difficult to access information about the International Breast Milk Project on the Wayback Machine. Every time I type in “www.breastmilkproject.org” into their search engine, I’m met with a “we’re experiencing technical difficulties” report. Funny, when I type in any other website URL, the internet archive has no such “technical difficulties” whatsoever. Other people have reported the same trouble with looking up anything IBMP-related there today.

Lauredhel made an incredibly rocking post on the IBMP recently, pointing out inconsistencies in the IBMP’s FAQ page between about a week ago and today. Two weeks ago, the IBMP FAQ page said that 100% of the money made off selling donated milk to Prolacta would go directly to the Lewa Children’s Home in Eldoret, Kenya. Suddenly, that promise to those children is gone, evaporated into thin air. So, what does this mean? NO money to the Lewa Children’s Home now? All the money made in the name of that Children’s Home will not be sent to Kenya? So it’s okay to take more than a hundred pictures of those African children and use those pictures in a slideshow, along with John Lennon’s hit song “Imagine,” for months to help convince women to donate their breastmilk to the International Breast Milk Project, but now that the IBMP have the breastmilk donations, now that they got what they wanted, NO money to the Lewa Children’s Home? Now, supposedly the money will go to some unnamed organization in Tanzania? What’s the next IBMP FAQ update going to tell us? “Now donating money to a remote spot in Namibia”…? Hey, why don’t you change countries every month! That’s fun, ’cause no one will notice, right? Certainly no one in Africa will. Who knows if anyone in Africa is even told they’re recipients of anything. How convenient! Planning on surprising them with your “goodwill,” are you, IBMP? Yeah, that’s probably it.

I find it an incredible stretch that the “technical difficulties” experienced today on the Wayback Machine are a mere coincidence, given that Lauredhel’s post was so spot-on, accurate, and shows without a shadow of a doubt that the IBMP keeps changing their story about where the milk and the money are going.

Dear readers, if you really want to help African orphans, I suggest researching the charity you wish to donate to scrupulously before giving anything. Ask many, many questions and make sure that whatever you send WILL go to the intended recipient.

As for breastmilk donation, I highly recommend either donating to a baby in need locally through MilkShare, or donating to a HMBANA non-profit milk bank. There are only eleven HMBANA milk banks in all of North America, so be sure to check that the milk bank you donate to is a HMBANA one so that the recipient gets the milk for the most affordable price possible.

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Prolacta Bioscience?

August 26th, 2007 by MamaBear

A little while back, Hathor the Cowgoddess created a comic strip on the story of the Zoops, which was really a story about how and why formula became popular and how some women manage to overcome this twisted social indoctrination and (happily) choose to breastfeed anyway. Anyway, I loved the story, and became inspired to do a comic strip of my own. While my drawings aren’t nearly as good as hers, I hope you enjoy reading the following “fictional” tale about an unscrupulous human milk processing company named “Proprofit Bioexploiter” anyway.

Proprofit Bioexploiter, Issue 1

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Like this cartoon? Email the following URL to your friends: http://www.breastfeedingsymbol.org/2007/08/26/prolacta-bioscience/. Educate everyone you know about how for-profit milk banking really works.

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A Blast From the Past

August 8th, 2007 by MamaBear

I can’t believe it took me this long to realize this. I’m sorry I didn’t see it before. I just now noticed another glaring inconsistency with the International Breast Milk Project.

Does anyone remember their old website? I found this old webpage for the IBMP (cached on October 6, 2006) and saw this really intriguing quote, “Our third shipment got underway Tuesday, October 3, when 6000+oz of milk started its journey from donors home to Prolacta Bioscience in California, where it will be processed.”

The first time I read that, I understood it to mean that the third shipment of over 6,000 ounces was underway to Africa on October 3, 2006. But that’s not quite what it means. What that quote means is that donors here in the United States donated over 6,000 ounces of breast milk and that breast milk was sent to Prolacta for processing. Okay.

That third shipment was delivered to Africa on Thanksgiving 2006, according to an online TIME article. Also according to the TIME article, that third shipment contained about 23 gallons of breast milk. When you convert 23 gallons to ounces, you get almost 3,000 ounces. This makes sense because Penny Reimers herself confirmed it when she said the first three shipments were quite a bit less than the fourth one, which was about 5,300 ounces.

The International Breast Milk Project’s third shipment was not quite 3,000 ounces.

Wasn’t the third shipment supposed to be over 6,000 ounces? Isn’t that what the International Breast Milk Project website led everyone to believe on October 6, 2006? This was before the October 23, 2006 Oprah show, so the IBMP already knew Prolacta was skimming off the top, if they announced on their website they had gotten over 6,000 ounces to be processed by Prolacta and then turned around and only shipped less than half of it to Africa. I mean, how else do you explain 3,000 ounces of donated breast milk not accounted for?

The International Breast Milk Project must have known Prolacta was taking a cut — quite a substantial one — before the Oprah show aired. It seems awfully convenient that they would leave out such important information before letting Oprah Winfrey endorse their “cause.”

Another observation: The third shipment to Africa from the International Breast Milk Project was on Thanksgiving 2006. It contained about 3,000 ounces of processed breast milk. The fourth shipment from the International Breast Milk Project wasn’t delivered until May of 2007. That’s six months after the third shipment, way after the Oprah show (which aired October 23, 2006), and after the IBMP was flooded with breast milk donations from Oprah fans and the positive publicity that show generated for them. By IBMP’s accounting, the Oprah show generated about 55,000 ounces in breast milk donations, not including the 6,000+ ounces received before the Oprah special ever aired.

Why it is that after the International Breast Milk Project was flooded with breast milk donations, the IBMP couldn’t find the time to do exactly what it set out to do in the first place, which is to say, send breast milk to Africa, for six months?

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Eagerly Awaiting the First Quarterly Report from The International Breast Milk Project

August 3rd, 2007 by MamaBear

I thought this might be of interest to those of you who care about full disclosure from non-profit organizations like the International Breast Milk Project. From the IBMP website (excerpt from a letter by Jill Youse):

“IBMP will publish quarterly donation reports on our website www.breastmilkproject.org, so you can track the ounces coming in and the funding going out. You will know that 100% of your milk is making a difference in the lives of babies orphaned by HIV in Africa.”

The letter is not dated, but it was written on or before June 3, 2007 because the same letter showed up on a thread in MotheringDotCommune’s message board, written by a user called “Jill Youse” on that date (you may need to log in to see it).

This got me thinking… If I could predict what that first quarterly report will contain, I know it will have to include that the IBMP started with at least a 55,000-ounce stockpile of breast milk (on May 31, 2007), and about 5,300 ounces of that were donated to iThemba Lethu in May 2007. Then the IBMP spent less than $2,000 to pay for two milk banks in an unspecified country in Africa (Cameroon? South Africa?). After that, there are no other milk donations to iThemba Lethu (I called and asked iThemba Lethu myself) nor to any other place in Africa (the “About Us” IBMP page doesn’t say they donated any other milk anywhere else either, and I’m sure if the IBMP had donated any other milk, they would have mentioned it by now).

I have no idea how much milk, if any, has been donated to the IBMP after May 31, 2007 from its generous donors, and the only ones who know the answer to that are the IBMP and Prolacta. This is one reason why I’m waiting for that quarterly report. It would be nice to know how much milk is being donated from the donors to the IBMP, how much milk is being sent to Africa from the IBMP, and how much milk Prolacta gets to buy from the IBMP for $1/ounce. And when I say I’d like to know how much milk, I don’t mean in the form of a percentage. I mean actual amounts. Surely this is being kept track of, so that the International Breast Milk Project can know exactly how much to send to Africa and how much money to collect from Prolacta. Hopefully that information will be shared with the public. Soon.

If you donated to the International Breast Milk Project around or after May 31, 2007, keep track of how many ounces you donated/are donating. Add it up and when the IBMP’s quarterly report comes out, see if your donation was a significant proportion of the total. Wouldn’t that be an interesting exercise?

Oh, one last thing before I finish…I found a curious thing, and I want to share it with you. Recently I visited this site and clicked where it said, “Africa Photo Gallery.” Awwww. Aren’t those kids cute? I wonder where they’re from? Where in Africa are they? It doesn’t say.

Happily, I think I figured it out.

On the IBMP FAQ page is this:

23. What will the dollar per ounce contribution from Prolacta to IBMP be used for? o This past year we have partnered with the Lewa Children’s Home Eldoret Kenya to bring clean water and healthcare to children orphaned by disease and poverty. We will help fund a healthcare clinic that will break ground in late 2007 or early 2008. We will be shipping the milk to Eldoret and exploring the possibilities of local milk donations. 100% of the dollar per ounce will go directly to aid the Lewa Children’s Home and healthcare clinic. Click here to view the photo album of the home.

Unfortunately, the above link won’t work if you click it from here, but it will work if you click it from the IBMP FAQ page (as of the date of this post). Go ahead, try it, but remember to come back here. Go to the IBMP FAQ page, scroll down until you reach #23, and click on the link. Did you click on the link to see the photo album of the home? Those children are really precious, aren’t they? Makes you just want to cry, doesn’t it, the way the Lennon classic is juxtaposed with images of the innocent, smiling orphans

Wait, aren’t those the same kids? With the same music? What are the chances of that?

Well, regardless, it’s really great that the IBMP will be funding a healthcare clinic for the Lewa Children’s Home Eldoret Kenya. Since the pictures are on two websites, it appears as though the home is not only getting support from the IBMP but from Run for Africa as well! Well, good for them. I hope they are; why else would the pictures be on both websites if that weren’t the case?

Ooh! Bonus for the Lewa Children’s Home! According to the letter by Jill Youse:

Prolacta has also agreed to donate $1 to International Breast Milk Project for every ounce of donated milk that stays in the U.S. Based on current donations, IMBP will receive $50,000 - $75,000 each year, ensuring a sustainable, steady source of funds to build critically needed healthcare clinics for babies orphaned by poverty and disease in Africa, and will provide a vehicle to help local moms donate milk. 100% of every dollar that each ounce of milk provides will go directly to supporting babies orphaned by HIV in Africa.

Thank goodness for that. Now all we have to do is wait for the quarterly report to confirm that the IBMP has received around $12,500-18,750 from Prolacta for this quarter, ALL (100%) of which should go “directly to aid the Lewa Children’s Home and healthcare clinic.” I’ll bet the Lewa Children’s Home in Kenya could sure use that money. I, for one, want to see that those kids get the money promised to them. Wow, just imagine what 100% of $50,000 (the low end of the estimate given by IBMP) could do for that orphanage in one year!

I don’t know about you, but I’m eager to read that quarterly report confirming that all of these wonderful things are taking place. I wonder when it’s coming out?

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Reader Mail

July 29th, 2007 by MamaBear

Since I’ve started this site, I’ve received many emails and messages thanking me for helping to expose what Prolacta is doing. I remember when I started doing my research, I read a few posts by other bloggers, and I thought what they were doing was really necessary. I was so grateful for their pursuit of the truth. The more I read, however, the more I wanted more information.

I kept looking, but the internet could only give me so much. I remember so many articles and sites, even Salon, a highly respected news website, quoted Prolacta’s price for human milk fortifier, as “about $35-$40,” (I issued a correction, which was printed in the comments section), but no matter where I looked, I couldn’t get an exact quote anywhere. This is why I started making phone calls. I didn’t want some ambiguous estimate; I wanted to know exactly how much they were charging.

That’s when I called Prolacta, found out their price for human milk fortifier was $184.83/ounce, and became the first person on the internet to write about it. I then called the National Milk Bank to see how they were affiliated with Prolacta, and found out they sold all their milk for $1/ounce to Prolacta. Even though they call themselves a “milk bank,” they do not actually distribute any breast milk to needy babies themselves. They’re essentially just a sugar-coated funnel for acquiring Prolacta’s raw material.

I then called iThemba Lethu, the orphanage in South Africa that the International Breast Milk Project donates to, and found out it only houses six children and has its own in-house milk bank (established 2001), which essentially makes the International Breast Milk Project an enormous waste of time and resources (which, other bloggers already had pointed out, would have been the case anyway since it costs so damn much to ship anything that far, let alone frozen milk). I found out that, as of this date, the IBMP has only sent Africa a little over 5,000 ounces of breast milk (all to iThemba Lethu), after they promised they’d send 55,000 ounces PLUS 25% of what was collected after May 31, 2007 (and in my opinion, it’s not very likely the IBMP will finish sending even just the 55,000 ounces by year’s end, allowing them to collect even more donations in the interim).

The Lactivist was the one, along with some other curious souls, that got Prolacta, I mean, the IBMP, to admit that they were only going to send 25% of the milk donations collected after May 31, 2007 to Africa, even though nobody ever mentioned any of this when they were showcased on Oprah. Lauredhel astutely noted in a recent post that the new president of the California chapter of The International Breast Milk Project, April Brown, is none other than Prolacta CEO Elena Medo’s daughter. (I’d actually missed that tidbit when I first read the OC Register article, so thank you, Lauredhel, for pointing it out!)

On the MilkShare Yahoo group, someone posted a link to my site and the Lactivist’s to try to warn potential donors not to fall for these scams. Since that post was made, I’ve received even more mail.

One letter in particular caught my eye, and I want to share it with you.

The email is from Betty (name changed), a woman who donated to the National Milk Bank. She says she was never told her milk would be sold for a profit, or even sold at all. She writes me:

I wish I could find others who have actually gone through this… This really actually hurts me. I didn’t bargain for this. My heart is still sick. I don’t know what to do. I feel very betrayed. All they had to do was provide disclosure…then I would have NOT chosen them…But instead, they gave ‘just enough’ information to get me interested. I should have known it was all too good to be true….*sigh* oh well…I have a pump and endless supply of bottles now. I guess that’s supposed to help me feel better.

The whole reason I picked the National Milk Bank and not a HMBANA bank is because I didn’t WANT the mothers to have to pay for the milk and one of the lovely ladies at NMB assured me that it was as a prescription in the NICU so it was covered completely. …

I know there’s problems inherent with ANY organization, but I just wish there was full-disclosure. I’m VERY into informed consent, and there is NO WAY IN HELL I would have donated had I known they would alter my milk other than pasteurizing it and NO WAY IN HELL I would have donated if I had ANY inkling (my biggest nightmare now) that they were turning my milk into Human Milk Fortifier. If I wanted someone to make a profit, I’d sell it myself.

Betty also shared with me an email she got from the National Milk Bank after she and her husband started making inquiries about what happened to her donated milk and how the National Milk Bank operates. As you read, notice how the writer, a National Milk Bank employee, evades revealing too much truth. My comments are in [brackets]:

Hi Betty,
We received a message from your husband earlier today and wanted to get back to you, but [insert some generic excuse here for why they screened Betty’s husband’s call and didn’t return it].

Prolacta Bioscience is who we work with and where the milk goes, once it has been donated. [Notice the use of the words “who we work with,” not “who we sell our donated milk to.” Often, those selling their milk to Prolacta will say that they are “partnering” with Prolacta, or some other garbage term that disingenuously represents what they’re actually doing.]

Once there, [what followed this was essentially a three-sentence advertisement for Prolacta human milk fortifier. *yawn*].

Another thing I would like to share with you is that in order for the babies to receive the milk, they must have a prescription from their NICU doctor. No prescription equals no milk. [Five more sentences of utter rubbish not relevant to anything at all.]

In answer to your concern, we do not sell our milk to the public. [Here they should have added, “We sell it to Prolacta for $1/ounce.”]

However, we do receive a profit, and the small profit we receive allows us to cater to our moms the way we do. [What?! They’re a for-profit entity? Just like Prolacta? *Break to check nationalmilkbank.com* Yup, nowhere on the website does it say it is a non-profit anymore. Funny that. I will update my links page now.]

We are able to supply our moms with …[Spare me your sales pitch. What you should be writing is “our donors supply us with our paycheck.”]

In addition, we are not established under a hospital or a medical office which makes it very difficult to claim non profit due to the guidelines and strict adherences to follow under government regulations. [Or, to put it more succinctly, “we make a profit off the milk donations we receive by appearing to look like a non-profit, but actually, we’re not.”]

If we can answer any other questions or concerns, please email or call us at 866-522-6455. Thank you and have a blessed day. [Nice touch. I’ll bet that last sentence alone is enough to make your donors forget they were conned.]

[Name removed]
National Milk Bank

If you’ve had a similar experience with Prolacta, The National Milk Bank, the International Breast Milk Project, or a midwifery/birth center, please post a comment or write me privately. With your permission, I’ll post it here.

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You’re Going to Want to Read This

July 25th, 2007 by MamaBear

Remember how I talked incessantly about the International Breast Milk Project? And then I talked some more? Well, I’m not done talking.

Here’s the summary of what I’m about to say: the 55,000 ounces of breast milk the IBMP promised to send to Africa? They haven’t been sent yet.

Want to know how I know?

It all started when a reader commented on my blog. MaryJaneLouise wrote:

From the IBMP’s website:“To date, we have collected nearly 55,000 ounces of breast milk.”

Sounds impressive, no? Well, divide by 25 ounces (low average daily consumption for a baby) and you get 2,200 baby-days of feeding. Still impressive. Divide by 365 days in a year, and you get…….. 6. 6 baby-years worth of donations.

Her math was right (except that she had to divide by six again because there are six children in the orphanage, which would have resulted in one year’s worth of donations), so, intrigued, I did a few calculations of my own using what I knew at the time. I answered her comment with this one:

That’s interesting… When I called iThemba Lethu, the director of the milk bank, Penny Reimers, told me that a shipment from Prolacta lasted them about four months. She said the last shipment was the 55,000 ounce one, and she also mentioned that it took four months to finish it even including the South African milk donations…She told me each child drank about a liter of milk a day, so roughly 34 ounces each child/day. Multiply by six and you get 204 ounces per day consumed by the whole orphanage. Take 55,000 ounces, divide by 204 ounces/day and you get 269 days, which is almost nine months.I don’t see how they could drink 55,000 ounces in four months, especially with the extra donations coming from their local bank. I didn’t think much of it until you mentioned this. Maybe she estimated wrong and each child is drinking two liters a day instead of one? Then the numbers she gave me would make sense. Still, that’s an awful lot of milk for one baby to be drinking.

Something’s not adding up… Maybe some of the milk is being stolen?

Also, Mary Jane, Prolacta’s last shipment of 55,000 ounces was a lot but it’s an anomaly. On the IBMP page, they mention that their next shipment will be 5300 ounces in late April: http://www.breastmilkproject.org/about_us.php. Late April has come and gone and that shipment hasn’t gotten there yet, at least according to the director of the iThemba Lethu milk bank (I called very early this morning to interview her). Anyway, if iThemba Lethu goes through 55,000 ounces in four months for six kids, then 5300 ounces will last them about a tenth as long.

None of this is to take away from the fact that Penny Reimers expressed nothing but complete gratitude toward Jill Youse and Prolacta, as I would if I were in her situation. However: everything I’ve written, I stand by.

I was not satisfied with this, though. I wanted to know why there was such a large discrepancy between what was reported and what I had calculated.

So I called South Africa again, this morning. Penny Reimers, director of the iThemba Lethu milk bank, is the person I spoke to. She is a very kind and gentle soul and had nothing but positive things to say about the project. It was an absolute pleasure to talk to her, and I have nothing but admiration for the work she does in the iThemba Lethu milk bank and with the kids in her care.

Here’s what I learned from our conversation:

  • iThemba Lethu has received a total of four shipments, including the one Jill Youse sent to Africa with Penny’s husband while he was on a business trip to the U.S.A. This first shipment was raw breast milk which the iThemba Lethu milk bank pasteurized in-house.
  • In our last conversation, she’d told me the last shipment she got was the 55,000 ounce one, but she told me now she must have been mistaken because she doesn’t think in ounces. She thinks in liters. She was confused, checked her records and found out that actually the last shipment arrived on Mother’s Day, May 18th, and that it had 5,343 oz in it. This was the purported April 2006 shipment the IBMP talks about on its About page. So it had arrived! Good.
  • She said this shipment of 5,343 ounces was so massive that she thought it was 55,000 ounces. Her words, “It filled three freezers-worth completely.”
  • When I asked her how many freezers-worth the other two shipments from Prolacta filled, she said it was less, that it was more like two freezers-worth and change. In other words, the other two shipments were less than 5,343 ounces.

This explains the discrepancy. This explains why it is that such a small orphanage can go through the donated milk so quickly even when adding in the local donations. She clarified this for me and said each shipment lasted about 3-4 months’ worth, including local donations, and that not every child gets fed breast milk. It sounds like she’s managing her milk bank very efficiently, without much waste. The milk would be consumed faster if she fed every child milk, which she does not because she needs to ration it for the very needy cases.

Since the IBMP made their promise to send 55,000 ounces of donated breast milk, they have sent the one shipment of 5,343 ounces in May 2007. Their rate of shipments to Africa is about two shipments a year so far.

Why is it important to know all of this? Because the International Breast Milk Project got 55,000 ounces of donated milk because of Oprah. On Oprah’s show, it was stated that the donated milk would go to Africa, not 25% of it. The IBMP promised that all those 55,000 ounces would be sent to Africa, and that thereafter, 25% of what is donated would be sent. At the current rate and quantity that the IBMP is sending milk (an average of two shipments a year), it would take almost five years to send the originally promised 55,000 ounces to Africa. I don’t know if pasteurized frozen milk can sit for that long in a freezer without becoming freezer-burned, but I’m guessing no. One year, maybe. Five? No. I’m also guessing they’re not going to pro-rate the milk they receive after May 31, 2007 to make sure all 25% of what’s donated gets to Africa like they promised. This gives them a five year gap of slop which seems a little bit excessive to me.

From IBMP’s FAQ page (emphasis mine):


Will all of my milk be sent to Africa?

o Although our objective was to collect and send 10,000 ounces of milk, we had an unexpectedly incredible and overwhelming response: 55,000 ounces were collected through May 31, 2007. All 55,000 ounces of this breast milk collected through May 31, 2007 will be shipped to Africa for babies orphaned by HIV.

This is either a bald-faced LIE, or the milk the orphans will be getting will be very old by the time it arrives. The only other way their statement could remain true is if the IBMP either steps up its shipment frequency or shipment amount, by a lot. Keep in mind that any donation made now to the IBMP will be 75% straight to Prolacta and only 25% to Africa. Though by the looks of things, I don’t see how they’re going to ship all 55,000 ounces to Africa by the time one year is up. I think what they’re expecting is that people will forget all of this and assume all the 55,000 ounces have been donated. They haven’t been. I give the IBMP until May 31, 2008 to see if all 55,000 ounces have been donated. They’ve got plenty of time. We’ll see if it happens. Even so, it gives them a year’s head-start, in which they could collect 100% of all donations and keep them for Prolacta, and no one would ever be the wiser. Do the math yourself and see what you come up with. (Edited 7/26/2007)

I asked Penny Reimers if I could donate milk directly to iThemba Lethu instead of through the International Breast Milk Project, and she said that if I wanted to, I was certainly welcome to. If you want to donate milk to the iThemba Lethu breast milk bank directly, and you have the means, do so. Then you’ll know for certain all your milk will be used for at least one of the six orphans in iThemba Lethu. They have pasteurization capabilities in-house, so you can send the milk raw, as long as it is frozen when it arrives. Penny mentioned that DHL and FedEx and another courier donated their shipping services. Perhaps if you ask them, they’ll foot the bill for your personal donation as well.

If you are reading this in South Africa and have a stash of breast milk to donate, please consider donating to the iThemba Lethu milk bank. All local donations (given in South Africa directly to iThemba Lethu and not through IBMP) will go to help at least one of the six orphans at iThemba Lethu, and it will help keep your milk bank strong.

Personally, I’m a big advocate of local donation, wherever you are. On my links page is a plethora of articles and pages about milk banks around the world. If you are in North America, please remember that donating to a HMBANA milk bank is the only way you can be sure your milk will be distributed for no more than it costs to process it. As always, MilkShare is another option for those of you who would prefer to meet your recipients through informal milk donation. But make sure you meet them, because you never know where Prolacta might be hiding.

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