BOSTON (CBS) - Years ago, wet nurses were commonplace, but in modern times, the idea of giving a baby another mother's breast milk hasn't been very popular. But breast milk donation is beginning to catch on. And one local hospital has become a breast milk depot servicing the greater Boston area.
Anna Schaefer donates her breast milk to a milk bank in Newton.
Her 2-month old son, Josiah, was born premature, and wasn't able to consume all of the milk that she produced.
"I had all this extra milk I knew he wouldn't use," Anna told WBZ-TV. "So I knew there were little babies who could use it."
Donated breast milk is ideal for premature babies or full-term babies or mothers who have medical conditions that prevent them from being able to nurse early on.
Dr. Brigid McCue is an obstetrician and the medical director of the Birth Center at the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth. The hospital just became the first milk depot in southeastern Massachusetts.
Dr. McCue says premature babies, especially, are healthier if they can have human breast milk.
"This is almost a bridge for them to get human milk," says Dr. McCue. "That's going to reduce infection for them, reduce complications in their GI tract and get them healthier faster."
Naomi Bar-Yam is the Executive Director of the Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast, where donated breast milk is screened, pasteurized, and stored.
Bar-Yum says there are two issues that make some moms hesitant to accept donated breast milk.
"There are moms who get the 'Ew Yuck!' factor," Bar-Yam explains. "The thought of taking milk from another mother gives a little bit of the willies, and I understand that. "I think it's important to know that you're comparing it not to mother's own milk but to formula which is modified cow's milk."
Bar-Yam also says people may worry about the safety but that donors are carefully screened and there has never been a documented case of a baby being hurt by donor milk.
"Our goal is not to provide milk for babies long-term," she says. "Our goal is to provide milk until a mother's milk supply comes in."
Dr. McCue says, "It's just such a gift to give to a baby in need."
Anna agrees. "It's easy and it's helpful and makes you feel like you're not wasting what you've worked for," she says.
Boston-area hospitals with neonatal intensive care units are already using donated breast milk for some of their preemies, and the hospitals usually carry the cost.
There are some moms who opt to use donated milk after they go home, but may have to pay out of pocket.
For more information about how to become a donor, visit the official website for the Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast.
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