Archive for the 'National Milk Bank' Category

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

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

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 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.


Mama Bear

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

I went to the page….*/

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.


(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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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


Like this cartoon? Email the following URL to your friends: Educate everyone you know about how for-profit milk banking really works.

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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* 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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Milk Bank Scams to Watch Out For

July 18th, 2007 by MamaBear

I did a quick Google search to see if Prolacta Bioscience was up to its usual shenanigans again. Apparently, it is. In addition to soliciting breast milk donations directly on through, creating the National Milk Bank to funnel all the milk donated there into Prolacta, and hijacking the International Breast Milk Project so that 75% of all donations to the IBMP go to Prolacta, they’ve got yet another scheme. They “partner up” with a birth center or lactation center so that breast milk donors are duped into trusting Prolacta.

The donated milk gets processed as human milk fortifier (a product that has not been proven safe yet; published medical journals regarding its safety either do not exist or are very obscure) and the recipient gets charged $184.83/ounce.

Here are some examples of organizations that sell their their milk to Prolacta, same as the National Milk Bank and International Breast Milk Project do:

If you donate to any of the above places, to or the National Milk Bank, know that your all your milk will go to Prolacta Bioscience. Prolacta will then process and sell the milk for $184.83/ounce. If you donate to the International Breast Milk Project, 75% of your donated breast milk will stay in the United States to be sold for $184.83/ounce.

Edited (7/26/2007): Please read or listen to this public radio report on Prolacta that confirms much of what I’ve already written.

If you want to donate to someplace where your milk will actually help a baby (and not a for-profit corporation), consider donating to a HMBANA bank. They have no affiliation with Prolacta Bioscience, and can only charge recipients what it costs to process the milk, which is usually around $3.50/ounce.

If you’d like to donate your breast milk directly to a baby in need, join MilkShare. Milkshare is a group created by Kelley Faulkner in 2004 to hook up women with surplus breast milk with women who would like donated breast milk for their babies. It is a low-cost alternative to milk banks for the recipients, as they only have to pay for shipping for the milk. For donors, it can be very satisfying to be able to know exactly who the recipients of their milk are.

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More Thoughts on Prolacta Bioscience

July 10th, 2007 by MamaBear

It seems that this subject is one that I cannot stop blogging about. There is still so much to say. It bugs me that the National Milk Bank sells every single ounce of donated breast milk they receive to Prolacta Bioscience (I’m not even sure the National Milk Bank wasn’t created by Prolacta; maybe it was! Update: apparently it was.) Yes, all the milk goes to “help treat babies in the NICUs,” but only if someone can foot the bill for it, and the price is very steep ($6.25/milliliter, or $184.83/ounce). Milk from non-profit milk banks also goes to “help treat babies in the NICUs,” and for far less money (around $3.25/ounce). The same stringent quality control and the same outcomes for patients who receive breast milk come from non-profit milk banks as from for-profit ones, with the only difference being that everyone can benefit from non-profit milk banks. The same cannot be said for for-profit ones.

Considering that none of the donors are getting compensated for their trouble and that they’re not even being told the whole story of what happens to their milk when they donate to the National Milk Bank or the International Breast Milk Project, you could say I’m a little ticked off about the whole thing.

Would it bother me as much if the donors were compensated and made aware of how much of a profit would be made? Maybe not, but that scenario is unlikely to happen. Actually, it still would bother me, because Prolacta’s product is so egregiously overpriced for a product that’s marketed “for the nutritional needs of premature and critically ill infants” that it seems almost criminal. Speaking of which, for me to find out the asking price of Prolacta’s human milk fortifier took some substantial investigating. It’s not like they list prices on their website. Many articles and and blogs mistakenly report the price to be around $35-40/ounce, which is only an average taken after you’ve added in your own pumped breast milk to their human milk fortifier. The actual price is $6.25 per milliliter, or $184.83 per ounce. It’s supposed to be a secret, so…. Tell everyone you know, especially anyone considering donating to the National Milk Bank, The International Breast Milk Project, and Prolacta Bioscience. If word gets out about their prices and what’s really happening to the milk that comes into their hands, their supply will drop in a hurry, forcing them to revise their business practices.

Want to donate your milk to a place where it will actually do some good? Find the non-profit milk bank closest to you.

Or donate your milk directly to a mom in your neck of the woods.

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Advantages and Disadvantages to Non-Profit and For-Profit Milk Banks

July 9th, 2007 by MamaBear

Before I continue with this, I need to point out that when I say “non-profit” milk banks, I mean all milk banks that are members of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.  When I say “for-profit” milk banks, I’m referring to The International Breast Milk Project,  the National Milk Bank, and any other milk bank or organization that serves a for-profit company.  Although The National Milk Bank and International Breast Milk Project are technically non-profit entities, they both serve Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit company specializing in processing and selling a product made out of donated human milk.

Non-Profit Milk Banks


  • Milk is a lot cheaper for the baby’s family than with a for-profit milk bank
  • If baby’s family can’t pay, but the baby is critically ill and has a prescription, the milk is free
  • Eleven locations in North America, so far
  • It may be possible that with enough non-profit milk banks and with a steady supply of milk donors and volunteers (and perhaps government subsidies), that the cost per ounce may one day decrease to an affordable level, or at least not increase substantially.


  • It’s not always convenient to donate milk to a non-profit milk bank
  • Non-profit milk banks do not have the funds to conduct cutting-edge research regarding human milk and milk bank products
  • Milk is expensive for the recipient ($3.00/ounce)
  • Donors don’t get compensated for their time or milk



For-Profit Milk Banks


  • Because the enterprise is motivated by money, research on human milk just gets done, period.
  • Innovative products such as human milk fortifier made from 100% human milk have been invented, with further innovations on the horizon.
  • It’s super easy and convenient to donate to a for-profit milk bank, anywhere in the USA. (A phlebotomist comes to your home for the blood and DNA testing, they send you a hospital-grade breast pump to keep even if you decide not to donate your milk, they provide all coolers, ice packs, pay for all shipping costs, etc.)


  • Even if an uninsured baby is dying in the NICU anywhere in the USA, he/she will likely not be eligible to receive human milk from a for-profit milk bank if the family cannot afford to pay for it
  • Milk from a for-profit milk bank is prohibitively expensive. Only insurance companies or very wealthy families would be able to afford to use it for treating sick babies at the current asking price ($6.25/milliliter).
  • Since by definition they are for-profit entities, for-profit milk banks have no incentive to lower the price of their human milk products even if they receive an increase in milk donations.
  • Donors don’t get compensated for their time or their milk.  They also don’t usually know that their generously donated milk will be sold for a profit to the end consumer.


Overall, I’d say that while it’s great that research is conducted a lot more quickly with for-profit milk banks, non-profit milk banks are better for society overall. Obviously anyone working for Prolacta Bioscience, the National Milk Bank, or the International Breast Milk Project would disagree with this assessment, but you’d probably be hard-pressed to find anyone outside these contrived organizations who’d say for-profit milk banks are a good idea for the majority of babies.

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The Difference Between For-Profit and Non-Profit Milk Banks

July 2nd, 2007 by MamaBear

I touched on this a little bit in yesterday’s post, but I feel like it needs a little more fleshing out. Milk banks, regardless of for- or non-profit status, collect, pasteurize, and distribute milk to needy babies throughout the country. No matter what kind of bank the milk is dispensed from, it is very pricey. Even non-profit milk banks charge upwards of $3.25/ounce to cover processing fees. (That’s about $12 for a four-ounce baby bottle, and how many of those does your baby gulp down in a day?)

The National Milk Bank, which calls itself non-profit, sells the milk it gets from generous, unsuspecting donors to Prolacta Bioscience. Prolacta Bioscience then sells the donated breast milk at an undisclosed amount for a profit. The company claims that it doesn’t sell the milk by the ounce, like non-profit milk banks do, that the price “depends on the gestational age and size of the neonate.” Some digging around revealed that all of that is true. They don’t sell their products by the ounce, they sell it by the milliliter, which, for anyone that’s ever taken a science course, is a lot less than an ounce. The price? $6.25 per milliliter. This makes the price per ounce more like $184.83.

$184.83. Per. Ounce.

This isn’t a fair comparison, however. Prolacta’s product is not usually used full-strength; it needs to be mixed with human milk, with the cheapest possible scenario being 20% Prolacta human milk fortifier mixed with 80% mother’s pumped milk. For a theoretical 3-pound baby in the NICU:

  • Assume a 3 lb NICU preemie gets fed a total of six ounces of milk a day (a conservative estimate)
  • Supplement the mother’s milk 80/20 with Prolacta human milk fortifier (80% breast milk, 20% Prolacta human milk fortifier)
  • 80% of 6 ounces = 4.8 ounces mother’s milk
  • 20% of 6 ounces = 1.2 ounces Prolacta human milk fortifier
  • Cost for 1.2 ounces Prolacta human milk fortifier = ($184.83/ounce X 1.2 ounces) = $221.80
  • Over $200 for ONE DAY, assuming the baby doesn’t drink more than six ounces.

By contrast, if the same 3 lb NICU preemie were to get fed a total of six ounces of milk per day from a non-profit milk bank capable of providing 24 calorie/ounce milk (Mother’s Milk Bank of Austin is one of those, as are many others), it would cost $3.25/ounce X 6 ounces = $19.50. Probably most middle-class parents would be able to afford that out of their own pockets, but even if they couldn’t, a non-profit milk bank would make sure any infant that needed it would receive it anyway. There is no such guarantee from a for-profit company like Prolacta.

So let’s recap. For equivalent products and circumstances (3 lb preemie consuming only 6 oz breast milk per day):

For-Profit Milk Bank Product

  • $221.80 per day, plus you need to provide 4.8 oz of your own pumped breast milk or find another source of it somewhere to mix it with 1.2 oz of Prolacta’s human milk fortifier.

Non-Profit Milk Bank Product

  • $19.50 per day, and you don’t have to provide any of your own breast milk (ideally a mother would start pumping to eventually sustain her infant without the help of any milk bank, but in the first few days, most mothers don’t produce much milk at all and could use the extra help).

This, by the way, is a fair comparison. Food for thought.

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What I Really Think About the International Breast Milk Scam Project

July 1st, 2007 by MamaBear

I’ve given this a lot of thought. The International Breast Milk Project is a project that sends breast milk to feed starving HIV+ orphans in South Africa. It was founded by Jill Youse, a lactating mother who had gallons of surplus breast milk she’d pumped for her daughter. She wanted to do something good with the milk, so she found an orphanage in South Africa called iThemba Lethu which houses children with HIV/Aids, got some money together for shipping, and started donating her breast milk to them. She told her friends and family and they chipped in to help. This was in April of 2006. Now the International Breast Milk Project hopes to donate thousands of ounces every year to needy HIV positive African orphans. Sounds really good, right?


There are details I’ve become aware of (this blogger helped uncover some facts and effected enough change to get straighter answers out of IBMP’s FAQ page) and other things I’ve thought of since first reading about it that have given me pause.

It costs a lot of money to ship, well, anything, to Africa from the USA. Shipping milk is especially expensive because it is so heavy and because a fairly large amount gets consumed by each baby very quickly (about a liter per day per baby). One woman and her family and friends alone wasn’t going to cut it. From everything I’ve read, she turned to non-profit milk banks for help processing the milk (pasteurizing, testing, re-freezing, shipping, etc.) and they refused, probably because processing and shipping the milk is so expensive, and because there are so many needy babies right here in the USA that could use donor breast milk. Also, they just don’t have the monetary resources for such an endeavor.

Since the non-profit milk banks couldn’t help her (probably too much red tape for such a project anyway), she sought help elsewhere. Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit milk processing entity, offered to process the milk for free. With the support of Prolacta, now the project could get underway. Somehow Oprah found out about what was happening (I wonder how…Was this the plan from the beginning? Donate to Africa so that Oprah would want to showcase the project?), and Jill Youse’s efforts were recognized on her show.

Then the Oprah effect took place: suddenly Prolacta…, I mean, The International Breast Milk Project, was literally flooded with breast milk donations. It’s estimated that over 50,000 ounces of breast milk were donated, with the intent that it would all go to needy HIV-positive orphaned African babies.

All of that donated milk, according to the International Breast Milk Project website, ended up being donated to Africa. But after May 31, 2007, only 25% of what is donated to the International Breast Milk Project goes to Africa. The other 75% of donated breast milk goes straight to Prolacta Bioscience, who then resells for a profit it to NICUs here in the USA as human milk fortifier.

On the IBMP’s FAQ page, it states that Prolacta does not sell human milk fortifier by the ounce, so it’s hard to get a price for it. I called up a local NICU here in Texas and tried to find out what the price for Prolacta Bioscience was. I was told, “I’m very sorry but I’m not allowed to give out that information.” I asked, “What kind of information?” The clerk’s answer, “Any information.” Huh? I’m pretty sure asking about the price of human milk fortifiers used by the hospital doesn’t violate any HIPAA regulations, but whatever. Maybe their legal team advised them not to divulge anything out of fear of being sued. Typical.

Undeterred, I then phoned a pediatrician friend of mine who’s done quite a bit of work in NICUs. He told me that for some preemies who are fed breast milk, sometimes fortifiers (bovine milk-based) are added to the breast milk to boost its calories. He said the two biggest manufacturers of breast milk fortifiers are Similac and Enfamil. He also mentioned that Similac and Enfamil donate large amounts of their products (formula and fortifiers) to hospitals, so that’s usually what the hospitals use when fortifiers are called for. He had never heard of Prolacta Bioscience.

After talking to him, I was even more confused. What’s better, to have two powerful formula companies maintain control over the nation’s (the world’s?) hospitals, thereby standing in the way of baby-friendly initiatives and perpetuating the bottle-feeding culture? Or is it better to allow Prolacta Bioscience to take advantage of the charity of generous lactating mothers in order to try and take over the human-milk-fortifier market? Ye-gads, I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to any of this.

I never found out what the price of the human milk fortifier Prolacta sells was, but I’ll keep looking.

Something struck me, though, as I was perusing the FAQ page for the International Breast Milk Project. It mentioned that for the 75% of donated milk that Prolacta gets to keep, Prolacta pays the International Breast Milk Project $1 per ounce. (The money gets used by the IBMP to fund breast milk banks in Africa, which is in the long-run a lot more cost-effective than shipping milk from the USA to Africa.) What occurred to me as I was reading this was, why doesn’t Prolacta pay the donors $1/ounce? Wouldn’t it be a lot cleaner for them, image-wise? They wouldn’t have to hide behind a charity to try to legitimize their business this way. Just be up-front and tell women, “We’ll give you $1 for every ounce of breast milk you donate to our company.” Prolacta already sets up all prospective donors with a free hospital-grade pump, at-home blood testing, free shipping for the milk, DNA testing for the milk received and each mother who donates (to make sure what they’re donating is actually human milk and not cow milk poured into Lansinoh bags, among other safeguards). Prolacta is already paying $1 for every ounce received from the International Breast Milk Project. Why not give it directly to the women who donate? It seems more fair that way; they’re the ones doing all the hard work. Perhaps they should keep both options open: one for the women who would like some of their milk and efforts go to help African orphans, and the other for women who need the extra cash. This could be a win-win, with a little tweaking (like maybe making 100% of what’s donated to the IBMP go to Africa, for example). Perhaps if a member of Prolacta’s executive team gets wind of this idea, maybe it’ll come to fruition.

Another item of interest: my pediatrician friend went over the information provided by Prolacta for the human milk fortifier made from 100% human milk. He said it seemed like the osmolality of their human milk fortifier was a little high to be safe. Translation: the concentrated human milk seems a little too concentrated, which could potentially cause problems like dehydration or renal failure or worse, like depletion of the free water in the baby’s blood causing really bad things like swelling of the brain and brain damage. (Makes me wonder how safe the formula-company-made milk fortifiers are…) He also noted that there weren’t any clinical trials of Prolacta’s product in use that he could find, which further made him suspicious of recommending it for any of his patients. Hmmm… Seems like this human milk fortifier made out of 100% human milk, while it sounds like a great idea to the uninitiated, might need a few more years of research.

Important note: Although what I’ve written may make it sound like I don’t agree with the International Breast Milk Project, I have to admit that even 25% of what’s donated to the IBMP going to Africa is still better than 0%. Without Jill Youse’s idea, ZERO babies in Africa would be benefiting from this. I’m not blogging about all this to give Jill Youse a hard time. I think her original idea of sending breast milk to Africa is a commendable one. I do think it’s important to bring up these questions, though, especially for those who would want to become donors to the project.

Personally, if I had a large stash of milk to donate, I’d probably find someone right here in my hometown, a local mom, who could use it for her baby. It’s a lot more cost-effective, I’d know exactly where my donation was going, and while it’s admirable to look out for babies halfway around the world, there are babies right here who need breast milk too. I know first-hand the heartache of not being able to provide all the breast milk my baby needs, and I also know the profound, down-on-my-knees gratitude I’ve felt at receiving donated milk for my daughter. To ease even one mother’s suffering – I don’t think I’d be able to pass up that opportunity.

To donate breast milk locally: Milkshare is an online service that can hook up women who need breast milk for their babies with those who have a surplus of it. Please read up on the risks and benefits of receiving raw breast milk on the MilkShare site before signing up as a recipient. (Breast milk donors can sign up free, but breast milk recipients must pay $15 for the service – an absolute bargain, if you ask me.)

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