Amanda Nickerson, executive director of the International Breast Milk Project, with her two daughters.
An international charity that collects donated breast milk for sick infants in Africa and in NICUs across the United States is based right here in Boca Raton.
Executive Director Amanda Nickerson, a mom of two with a third on the way, runs the International Breast Milk Project, which delivered 11,000 ounces (2,375 bottles) of donor breast milk to South Africa just last month.
Moms all over the country – many of them champion pumpers whose babies cannot consume all the milk they have stowed in the freezer – are donating it, rather than pouring it down the drain.
For sick babies, it can be a life saver.
Twenty-five percent of the milk donated through the IBMP is earmarked for organizations in South Africa, where HIV is rampant – an orphanage in Durban and neonatal intensive care units in Cape Town hospitals.
Many babies who need donor breast milk are born preterm.
The region’s high HIV rate causes many complications for breastfeeding, chief among them that the virus can be transmitted through breast milk. Babies can be born preterm, before the mom’s milk comes in. Mothers may die of HIV/AIDS, soon after giving birth, or abandon a baby who has the virus. They end up on the Durban orphanage’s doorstep.
In Cape Town NICUs, preterm babies born at 3 to 5 pounds, can be provided donor breast milk via a doctor’s prescription. For them, an exclusive diet of human milk, which is easier to digest, is their best chance of survival.
“These babies wouldn’t live without it,” Nickerson said. “It’s that extreme.”
The International Breast Milk Project started in 2006 with Jill Youse, a mom in Missouri who realized her daughter would never consume the freezer full of frozen breast milk she had pumped when she returned to work.
Tossing it seemed a waste, so she searched for a way to donate it.
She found the Durban orphanage, which was pleading for milk donations.
Youse formed a partnership with Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit company, to process the milk for donation.
Once the project was featured on Oprah and the national news, Youse became overwhelmed and started looking for help. Nickerson, who was consulting for nonprofits after the birth of her second child, got involved as a milk donor, then as a volunteer. (She has worked with the Red Cross and the American Cancer Society in Miami). She took over as executive director of IBMP two years ago.
The IBMP’s partnership with Prolacta continues: After the 25 percent of the first 400,000 ounces of donated breast milk is processed for infants in South Africa and other countries in need, Prolacta uses the remaining 75 percent to make its fortifier for critically ill and premature infants, which it sells to in NICUs in the United States.
Prolacta donates a dollar to IBMP for every ounce of milk that remains in the United States, Nickerson said. That money is used to support local milk banks in Africa, among other projects.
So far, IBMP has donated 288,682 ounces of milk to Africa, according to its website. The shipping company Quick International donates its service to keep the milk frozen and transported there.
As a for-profit company, Prolacta’s involvement with milk donations has its critics. But it’s a way for IBMP to get its milk processed safely for transport, an expensive process.
“They do everything to ensure that it’s as safe as it could possibly be,” Nickerson said.
There are nonprofit milk banks around the country, but none in South Florida. One is under development in Orlando.
IBMP can take donations from anywhere. The rigorous application process starts online. All materials, storing and shipping supplies are sent to the donor’s door. FedEx picks it up.
In between, donors need doctor’s notes, a blood test – IBMP also sends a technician to the donor to do it – and more to be sure they qualify.
For Nickerson, it’s a way to do something good with the excess milk. And it doesn’t cost you a thing.
TO LEARN MORE
Get the details on milk donation and read more about IBMP’s work at its website
Follow IMP on Twitter @GiveMilk
- CHARLENE PACENTI