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  • Writer's pictureChardá Bell, IBCLC, CBE, CD

Save Black Babies! Disparities in Donor Milk Supplements

Within our U.S. hospitals, researchers now have a better understanding the differences in how Black and brown infants are receiving care..

Here are some of the disparities they found:

  • More babies died in hospitals where most low-birth-weight babies were Black.

  • Hospitals with a large number of black patients were more likely to be understaffed than hospitals with fewer Black patients.

  • Low-birth-weight Black and Hispanic babies were less likely than white infants to be referred for early intervention.

  • Breastfeeding rates for Black and Hispanic babies were lower than for white babies, and Black moms reported getting limited breastfeeding support. However, in hospitals with more white moms, breastfeeding rates among all infants improved.

  • Black babies were twice as likely to die from bleeding in the brain (a condition that can happen in premature infants) than white babies.

  • Hispanic babies with the intestinal disease necrotizing enterocolitis were less likely to survive than non-Hispanic babies.

Out of African-American mothers of NICU babies offered PDHM, 50% refused consent and 38% consented. The number one reason for refusal, "it’s someone else's milk." This answer is mostly due to lack of knowledge and misconceptions about PDHM, which can be addressed with public health education about human milk banking. Black babies are also placed in the NICU more than other babies due to medical and institutional racism in the world they are born into. Just one day in the NICU without any complications is over $3k.

Black families are often placed with this heavy financial burden on top of already being amongst the lowest wage earners in the U.S. Infants have the right to exclusive human milk feedings to achieve optimal health, let's be able to have them exercise that right, or not, after making an informed decision. We are also not even being provided with the option to give our babies human milk, because disparities in access to donor milk include postal codes with higher percentages of black residents being less likely to be offered donor milk - CDC MMWR 2017.

  • $27 for infants of mothers who provided sufficient minimum amounts of human milk.

  • $154 for infants of mothers who has insufficient milk supply during admission.

  • $281 for infants of mothers who went home on formula but received any volume of mothers own milk during stay at the NICU.

  • $590 for infants who received none of the mothers own milk during NICU admission.

Neonates with surgical GI disorders when fed a 100% human milk diet had fewer days to achieve full enteral feeds, fewer days on parenteral nutrition and shorter hospital stays, less than 2 weeks. If we provided more support of human milk feeding to these families, we could keep the cost down and actually have better outcomes for all of the U.S.

The impact of human milk (HM) and pasteurized human donor milk (PDHM) is beyond measurable! Everyone should have easy access to it whenever it is needed.

Meanwhile, some companies are profiting off lower income Black women, by taking advantage of us being socioeconomically disadvantaged, by purchasing our breast milk and upselling it to make a profit. Make sure you are donating to an accredited milk bank, who will instead offer you support and resources by not financial support. If you need assistance look into government programs like WIC, CalFresh, First 5, check with your local community churches for resources of support.

Breastmilk is precious, and if you chose to sell it that is certainly your prerogative and more power to you but do be sure to do your homework to find out what they will do with your milk. Sometimes, they make hundreds off an oz to sell to cancer patients who are desperately seeking an immune boost after any type of radiation therapy. For them, it should be free too!

I digress, I just want to save the world one little drop of human milk at a time. What I’ve went the long way in saying is that, it’s a shame that this racism trickles down into our food system and babies, when low income or families of color are less likely to have access to PDHM. We simply cannot have donor milk disparities, or ALL babies will not thrive!

In summary: All human babies deserve the right and opportunity to access human milk. Donor milk should be the gold standard for supplementation. Disparities shouldn’t exist for in human milk consumption or banking. Human milk has a high price tag and it has an even higher price to pay for not using it. Think of donor milk as designer formula, you know you’d use it if it was labeled that way. Hence I will now be calling donor milk, designer milk because it is designed by the body of someone else but yet it is worthy and pure. Go get you some of that designer donor milk!


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