U partnership feeds infants with donated breast milk

The University has teamed up with Prolacta to provide milk to at-risk infants.

Kathryn Nelson

For some women, pouring their excess breast milk down the drain feels wasteful. But now women can donate their breast milk to babies in need.

The University Medical Center, Fairview partnered with Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit company that fortifies donated breast milk to create nutritionally enriched products for premature and critically ill infants.

Lora Harding-Dundek, manager of birth and family education at the University Children’s Hospital, said Prolacta uses a breast milk concentration process that ensures a high amount of calories per ounce of milk.

Dundek said the company also labels the product with its nutritional content, “so if you give it to a baby you know precisely what the baby is getting.”

This process also makes Prolacta a more expensive product, Dundek said, but she said the health benefits might outweigh the price.

The Prolacta product might cost the University closer to $20 per ounce, Harding said.

“If we can get that baby out of the hospital five days sooner (by using Prolacta), we have just saved a bundle of money on the care of that baby,” she said.

Prolacta CEO Scott Elster said his company produces the only human breast-milk fortifier for the most critically ill infants.

Other formulas are made from cow milk, he said, which can cause infants to suffer severe reactions and even death. Elster said babies are less likely to develop health issues with a human breast-milk fortifier.

Laraine Borman, director of Mothers’ Milk Bank in Denver, said she’s concerned about

Prolacta’s for-profit status, because she doesn’t believe “in making a profit from the generosity of wonderful young mothers who donate their milk.”

Borman said Mothers’ Milk Bank only charges a processing fee to the insurance companies for the donated breast milk and 30 percent of donated milk is delivered for free to babies who need it.

Regardless of the price of Prolacta, parents might not be paying the difference, Harding said.

“We charge every baby that has the diagnoses of preterm illness the same rate, regardless of how much it costs us to take care of them,” she said. “In this area it would be unusual for parents to be stuck with that bill.”

Borman said she wishes the University would have contacted her organization about milk donation.

“The reason that the University of Minnesota signed up with Prolacta was that the hospital gets money from Prolacta to support other programs, and the (University’s) lactation consultants felt that’s a wrong way to look for money, through a commercial enterprise,” she said.

Before the partnership, women had to send their donation to other states. Now, Prolacta purchases the breast milk from the University and all profits go back to the hospital’s lactation services.

“That’s the mission and the vision, that this money gets pumped back into breast feeding and education,” Elster said. “We believe that the work that the nonprofits are doing is incredibly important.”

Elster said both his company and nonprofits are working together “to promote breast milk as the ultimate food,” he said.

Borman said she continues to believe that breast milk is not a commodity.

“Donor human milk saves lives, and it’s a very important thing that babies have access to it, whether they can pay or not,” she said.