Premature babies in Western Pennsylvania received a Christmas present from lactation consultant Denise O'Connor and her plans to establish the Three Rivers Mothers' Milk Bank, the first of its kind in the area.
More than 40 percent of hospitals around the country provide donated breast milk to babies born prematurely and at low birth weights. But that's not been the case in the Pittsburgh area because, in part, there hasn't been a local milk bank. “We're a little bit behind,” Ms. O'Connor explained. She says “there (are) 14 hospitals in Pennsylvania utilizing donor milk” but “not a single one … in the western part of the state.”
Professionals support O'Connor's “breast is best” view. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that in cases where premature infants cannot have breast milk from their mothers, they receive donated mothers' milk instead. Lactation experts and AAP pediatricians also favor breast milk for all babies, with the AAP guidelines promoting exclusive breast-feeding until 6 months and ideally until age 1.
Not everyone can successfully breast-feed their own babies. But there are all sorts of casual and informal breast milk sharing networks.
Meanwhile, the near-universal promotion of breast-feeding, which is raw mothers' milk, by organizations like the AAP does raise a question about why the same group is so unequivocally opposed to raw animal milk that it advocates a federal ban.
At almost the same time that O'Connor was announcing her mothers'-milk bank, the AAP was issuing a statement endorsing “a ban on the sale of raw or unpasteurized milk and milk products throughout the United States.”
The AAP says that raw animal milk is just too dangerous for anyone to consume. How dangerous? The AAP estimates that “1 percent to 3 percent of dairy products consumed in the U.S. are not pasteurized” and that “from 1998 to 2009, that led to 1,837 illnesses, two resulting in death.”
Two deaths in 11 years is a threat? Over at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is similarly opposed to raw milk, the “threat” seems downright nonexistent when compared to processed milk. According to the CDC, comparing disease outbreaks from processed vs. raw milk, in 14 years more people got sick from processed milk (2,098) than raw milk (930) and nobody died from either.
There are lots of people who want to drink raw milk, however, and feed it to their kids because they believe it is more healthful, just like breast milk is more healthful for babies. Consuming raw milk during childhood may protect against asthma, skin ailments and some allergies. And some anecdotal evidence shows that raw milk can cure lactose intolerance. But don't tell that to the nanny-statists over at the AAP.
Abby W. Schachter lives in Regent Square and blogs about the intersection of government policy and parenting at captainmommy.com and iwf.org.