When Alison Richardson’s baby was born prematurely, he weighed just 1 lb, 11 ounces.
“This is William Hague Richardson IV,” says Richardson, holding him carefully so she doesn’t tangle the wires, medical bracelets and oxygen tube that tethers William to the neonatal unit at Bronson Methodist in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Today, he’s wearing a baby blue onesie that says “Little Man.”
“He’s now 5 lbs, 13.9 ounces,” she says proudly.
A big reason Richardson says William is doing so well is that the hospital brought in donor milk when her own supply fell short.
For years, hospitals have gotten donor milk from non-profit milk banks.
But now, for-profit milk companies have entered the picture, like Oregon-based Medolac.
Medolac pays a dollar per ounce for the breast milk they get from moms, like Andrea Short of Newport, Michigan. Short’s youngest, Johanna, didn’t latch when she was born, so Short found herself with a freezer stuffed with frozen breast milk.
“She was probably four months old when I realized I had an overflow problem,” Short says.
Selling her excess milk to Medolac helped her family pay bills, and it even got her breastfeeding Johanna longer than the year she’d originally planned.
“It was a great incentive for me to continue, and make a little bit of extra money, and help some other babies who need it,” she says.
Over time, Short sold about 6,000 ounces of breast milk to Medolac.
But before this, she was donating her milk to the nonprofit milk bank in Kalamazoo, Michigan—The one that supplies the hospital treating baby William.
Cindy Duff runs that milk bank. She says lately, their donations have dropped sharply enough that they’ve had to send some patients to other milk banks out of state.
And she’s critical of Medolac for not disclosing exactly where it sends its milk.
“My concern is that we want to be able to have the milk necessary to process for the babies in Michigan. And if the milk goes to a for-profit, and it’s not even being dispensed to anyone in Michigan, that’s concerning.”
Medolac declined to be interviewed on tape.
But in an email, a spokesman says the company can’t say which hospitals it sells to because of non-disclosure agreements.
The spokesman says all of the milk Medolac collects is given exclusively to sick infants.
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