Alaska Could Soon Supply Its Own Donor Human Breast Milk

Alaska could soon have a Human Breast Milk Bank. The Milk Bank would operate under the Alaska Blood Bank and supply the state with donor milk. The Blood Bank has submitted a proposal to their board and is awaiting a decision. KNOM’s Anna Rose MacArthur reports.

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Across the U.S., 13 milk banks supply all 50 states with donor milk. And Dr. Norman Means, Chief Medical Officer for the Alaska Blood Bank, says supply is not meeting demand. Means says the nation requires nine-and-a-half-million ounces of milk per year. Only about one-third of that is met.

“So as you can see, there’s a big gap in what the need is and what’s available.”

Kim Updegrove, President of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, says with stocks limited, donor milk goes to level-three neonatal intensive care infants. The standard of care for these preterm babies weighing 53 ounces or less is a breast milk only diet.

Alaska’s only level-three NICU is in Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Providence sources the majority of its donor milk from Colorado— about 700 ounces per week for 42-hundred dollars. A milk bank in Alaska would not only cut shipping costs but also increase the state’s milk security and bolster national supplies of what Updegrove calls a “scarce resource.”

“Currently, the Alaskan NICUs are getting that milk from other states. So they are feeding donor human milk to their babies, which is great but they are missing out on the opportunity to say to the Alaskans, you can take care of the babies born in this state and your milk is optimal for your baby and lifesaving for pre-term babies.”

If the proposal passes, it will be the first combined blood and milk bank in the country. Dr. Means says the combination makes sense. Both banks require similar operations, and the consolidation reduces redundancies in infrastructure and staffing. And the proposal, Means says, has already received widespread support, often unsolicited, from the medical community, state and local governments, and moms.

“Everywhere we turn, we have the support of anybody who’s involved in the care of mothers and babies.”

The Bank is waiting on the board’s decision. The Blood Bank should break ground on a new building in May, and the facility includes space for a milk center. Means says after receiving approval, the Milk Bank could begin operating in six months.

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Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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