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World Human Milk Donation Day: 6 Ways for Americans to Celebrate

Image Credit: Hearts Milk Bank

When I was a young nurse, only a handful of milk banks dotted the United States. Then, in the early 1980s, we had the big HIV scare. To my knowledge, not one drop of HIV-infected donor milk was ever dispensed from an accredited milk bank. But this scare led to the closure of several US milk banks. The pendulum has now swung the other way; in the past decade, multiple milk banks opened in the US. That alone is reason to celebrate World Human Milk Donation Day! Here are 6 other ways you can join this global celebration.

Consider the number of milk banks in the US

Understand, I’m talking about milk banks accredited by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). There are now 36 officially-accredited milk banks (note that not all are in the US.) And, more are waiting in the wings. Sure, compared to the 10-12 banks we had in the mid to late 1990s, 36 seems like a big number. But let’s step back and look at milk banking from a global perspective. 

Appreciate the origin of World Human Milk Donation Day

Brazil has been and continues to be the global leader in donor human milk banking. Brazil boasts more than 220 milk banks. World Human Milk Donation Day was started in Brazil and has spread to many other countries.

In 2004, Brazil’s Human Milk Banking Network began an annual day to promote the importance of donating human milk. Each year, a celebrity was chosen as the “godmother of milk donation”, and a campaign was carried out to recognize how donating milk saves lives.

In 2010, Brazil joined with other countries in the Iberoamerican Program of Human Milk Banks to determine how to host a worldwide day to celebrate milk banking. They reflected on the “First Letter of Brasilia,” which laid the groundwork for international cooperation in milk banking. That document was signed on May 19. Hence, May 19 was designated as World Human Milk Donation Day.

Take a lesson from other countries around the globe

Photo courtesy of Hearts Milk Bank.

I was totally fascinated with my recent conversation with Gillian Weaver. With Dr. Natalie Shenker (who was also a guest on my recent podcast) she co-founded and is a director of the Hearts Milk Bank and the Human Milk Foundation. Certainly, Gillian has had plenty of zeal, creativity, and knowledge in establishing milk banks in the UK and serving in leadership capacities for the European Milk Banking Association (EMBA), but she didn’t stop there.

Gillian gave us a glimpse of how she helped others to establish milk banks in Australia, India, Kenya and Vietnam. From our conversation, I gathered that there’s no “right” model or method for starting a milk bank. Hence, we can all learn from the structure and process used in other countries around the globe.  

Pick up your game; learn more about milk banking

I’ve had a lot of clinical experience with breastfeeding families, but I’ve never established or managed a milk bank. I have much to learn. As I thought about World Human Milk Donation Day, I became acutely aware how little I know about milk banking.

I turned to this must-have resource: Strengthening Human Milk Banking: A Global implementation Framework. It’s free! So, grab this incredible document that is chock full of useful information.

Like to travel? Great! Pack your bags and head for Italy in October! The EMBA is presenting its Fifth International Conference, with the theme: Donor Human Milk as a Bridge for Successful Breastfeeding.

Talk with past donors; create a little hype

Do you know mothers who have donated milk? You might use your social medial to highlight the deep satisfaction of donating. These mothers know that human milk is, for some infants, literally the difference between life and death.

To establish a human milk bank in your hospital or community, you’ll need donors. That means that mothers need to understand the importance of donating their milk.

Promote and support breastfeeding

It might seem obvious, but unless and until breastfeeding is the norm in the US, we probably won’t can’t expand our number of donor human milk banks.

Definitely, we Americans have made progress with establishing and maintaining more milk banks that we had a few decades ago. But when we look to our international neighbors, we realize we have much to learn, and much to emulate.

Have you used or contributed to a human milk bank? How will you be celebrating World Human Milk Donation Day? Tell me in the comments below!

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