Archive for the 'Oprah' Category

Hillary and Obama for President :)

January 8th, 2008 by MamaBear

In a world where we are often made to feel that we must choose between one or another thing, I’d like to believe we can have what we really want.  And I believe that what we really want is to be taken seriously, among other things.  Concerning our upcoming presidential election, I feel optimistic about a more positive future, one where cooperation rather than division prevails.  I was hoping that Oprah Winfrey would decide to run, but it looks like this year she won’t be.  She is putting her energy into many good things, though, as she is wont to do.  :)  I am as well, and I am confident you, dear readers, are, too.  :)

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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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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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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: 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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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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