Bioethics Blogs

Human Milk Banking in Guatemala City: All for All

Martha Paynter compares human milk banking practices in Guatemala City and Atlantic Canada.


Last month, non-profit human milk banking staff and researchers from across the continent met in Dallas for the Human Milk Banking of North America 2017 Symposium to share best practices and new developments. The use of human donor milk is growing and non-profit banks must compete with for-profit enterprises and private milk markets. Human donor milk health and safety standards in North America continue to evolve in response to scientific evidence, epidemiological developments such as Zika, and funding changes including the recent Medicaid coverage for banked milk in New York State. While we adapt processes and goals for milk banking in North America, it is worth examining alternative models of milk bank operations.

In Atlantic Canada, for example, three level-3 Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) provide human donor milk to infants under 1500 grams who are unable to receive sufficient milk from their own mothers. The milk is purchased at approximately $5/ounce, including shipping, from the Northern Star Mothers Milk Bank in Calgary. Northern Star is a private, community-based non-profit business. Milk is collected from healthy volunteer lactating women across Canada who meet donor criteria. Donors may take some medications, but not pharmaceuticals or herbs to promote lactation. Donors ship the frozen milk by courier to Northern Star, where it is pasteurized and distributed to NICUs, inpatients and outpatients across the country according to need and availability. Since opening in 2012, Northern Star has distributed over 500,000 ounces of milk.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.