The world of milk donation is complex. There are non-profit milk banks, mother-to-mother donations, and then there is Prolacta. Each method of donation has its pros and cons, but Prolacta is special in that it is the only for profit milk “bank” that actively seeks donations of mothers’ milk to process and sell for profit.
In her article, “Swindled: The Ugly Side of Milk Donation,” Amy from Just West of Crunchy unpacks the issue thoroughly, and I would really encourage you to read her article and the two follow-up articles (Prolacta’s Mole, Prolacta responds to “Swindled: The Ugly Side of Milk Donation”) to get a full understanding of the complexity of this issue. It’s important background information for what I will be talking about here.
I donated to Prolacta in the past via their project to send milk to African babies. At the time, I was excited to help out with orphans in need. I was thrilled at the prospect that I could help a sweet orphaned baby who might otherwise die from tainted water used to mix its formula. Later, when I learned that it was highly unlikely that any of my milk actually went to help those babies and had most likely instead been sold for profit, I felt used. It was a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, and it’s a feeling that I have never quite managed to shake.
With this in mind, you can imagine how I felt with I received the following message on my Facebook page (bolding mine):
I am loving your site and your story! Best of luck with your two girls! I was doing research for my client Prolacta (to be completely transparent) and its Helping Hands Milk Bank when I found you and thought you might want to do a blog post to educate your readers.
Prolacta has this program called the Helping Hands Milk Bank where nursing moms can donate excess breast milk to be given to premies who aren’t getting enough. I’ll paste some information below for a blog entry about this group so that other moms reading your blog can be aware that this resource is available. Let me know…thanks!
Helping Hands is a virtual milk bank that allows qualified donors to make breast milk donations from the comfort of their home. Prolacta Bioscience collects excess breast milk from mothers who donate through Helping Hands and processes it into the first and only commercially available breast milk fortifier made from 100% human milk (rather than cow milk) for critically ill, premature infants in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Among other improved risk factors, a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics shows that an exclusive human milk diet (which includes Prolact+ H2MF) reduces the odds of developing NEC (the #1 health risk for preemies) by 77%.
The process is simple. Helping Hands allows busy mothers to apply online in about 15 minutes. Helping Hands supplies storage containers, and covers all shipping costs & supplies, so there is no out-of-pocket cost to the donor, and she doesn’t have to travel anywhere to donate her breast milk.
I can get you some links or code for a supporter badge for your site, just let me know…
Essentially, what Rita T (a PR rep) is asking me to do is advertise for free for her for profit company. She does mention Prolacta several times, but she never mentions that both it and Helping Hands are for profit enterprises. Instead, she says that the milk will be “given” to babies. She talks about milk donations and refers to Helping Hands as a milk bank, which further confuses these for profit businesses with legitimate, non-profit milk banks.
Here is the response I sent to Rita T’s solicitation:
Rita, I am very familiar with prolacta, having donated to them in the past, and I am one of those moms that finds their business model to be absolutely beyond the pale. I am not interested in becoming involved with anything further to do with prolacta. After donating to them, I felt used and misled. The milk prolacta collects is not “given” to premies, as you say. Rather, the milk is processed and sold for profit to hospitals for use as a human milk fortifier. Their marketing and advertizing is misleading and predatory. I will always continue to encourage mothers to donate milk, but I will encourage mother-to-mother direct donation or donations to non-profit milk banks rather than donating to a company that preys on the good intentions of mothers for their own profit.
I am sorry if this seems like a harsh response, but you are asking me to promote a business based on misleading information. Nowhere do you mention that prolacta is for-profit and nowhere do you mention that the human milk fortifier will be sold for profit. In no other industry do businesses expect to get their raw materials for free, and I am, frankly, shocked, that prolacta continues to pursue this in this manner.
As a for profit business, I would imagine they could afford to pay for their own PR rather than trying to get that for free as well.
I decided to do a little digging on Helping Hands, and I was disappointed, but not surprised, by how misleading their website is. A quick google search turned up the website straight away, and I expected it to be clear somewhere on the front page that the milk would be sold for profit.
Alas, no. Not even if you scroll down and read all the teeny-tiny print at the bottom of the page.
Not even when you click the button”Understand Where your Milk Goes” do they disclose their for-profit status. Instead, they bring you to a pretty graphic with trucks and buildings showing how milk is brought from the mother, processed, and delivered (not “sold”) to the hospitals.
It isn’t unless you click on the HHMB FAQ tab at the top of the page and scroll all the way through the FAQs to the bottom that they reveal their for profit status. Can you find it? It took me 20 minutes from the time I opened their website and I knew what to look for.
Look, I don’t have a problem with their product. I don’t even necessarily have a problem with the plain fact that they are a for-profit business. I work in corporate America. I completely get the need to cover the costs of research. I really and truly do. Heck, I don’t even have a problem with corporate PR as long campaigns are ethical and transparent.
What I do have a problem with is that Helping Hands and Prolacta Biosciences hide behind the language of non-profits (using words like “milk bank” and “donate”) to solicit for free the raw materials they use to make their product. They are not up-front with mothers about the fact that they are selling their milk for profit. They are not upfront about the fact that they are in direct competition with non-profit milk banks both in gathering milk and selling a product. This kind of misinformation is completely unacceptable and it must stop.
If you are going to run an ethical business, you have got to be transparent.
Fellow moms, please research where your milk is going if you choose to donate to a milk bank. Read all the fine print. Here is a quick list of “banks” that collect and sell milk to Prolacta (according to the Prolacta website):
- International Breastmilk Project (this is the one that supposedly sends the milk to Africa and the one I briefly donated to)
- Milkin’ Mamas
- South Coast Milk Bank
- Helping Hands Milk Bank
- National Milk Bank
- Milk for Wishes Milk Bank
- University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview
- San Gabriel Valley Milk Bank
So, Rita T, please think carefully about what you are doing by contacting bloggers such as myself and asking us to shill for your client. Think carefully about the misleading messages and emails you are sending out. Think about it, and then please stop doing it. You, Helping Hands, and Prolacta Biosciences are not behaving in an ethical way.If you have excess milk and you would like to donate to a reputable organization, below are some good resources*:
- Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) – An organization of non-profit milk banks in the US and Canada
- Eats on Feets – a community for informal milk sharing, see also the Eats on Feets Facebook Page
- Human Milk 4 Human Babies – a global milksharing network
The dialogue between myself and the PR rep continues. Perhaps there is a possibility here of making some real and lasting change for the better.
- Shortage Of Breast Milk Leads To Unique Donation Drive In Sacramento (sacramento.cbslocal.com)
- Texas Mom Sets World Record for ‘Most Breastmilk Donated’ (86 Gallons!!!) (everydayfamily.com)
- Donated breast milk can be a preemie’s best friend (hamptonroads.com)
- Milk Bank collects donations from breast-feeding moms in Sacramento (sacbee.com)