Wednesday, August 29, 2012

U.S. company Prolacta milks donors, charity partners

A U.S. company that makes money selling a product – made from donated mothers' milk – to children's hospitals, is polishing its image by partnering with well-known charities.

Prolacta Bioscience sells a fortifier product made from human milk for premature babies in neonatal ICUs. It has, of late, announced various donations to charity partners.

Prolacta charges $180 an ounce for its product.

The most-recent donation is $7,500 going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation as part of an agreement signed last fall where Prolacta would send a minimum of $30,000 in a year to the foundation - $1 for every ounce of milk donated in Make-a-Wish's name. Since this announcement Prolacta's volunteer donor moms have given 60,000 ounces and raised double the annual minimum - $60,000 and counting.

I marvel at the marketing savvy behind this arrangement.

Prolacta competes for human milk donors in the US with non-profit milk banks. (See blog posts here and here on Prolacta's moves into Utah to compete with the Denver Mothers' Milk Bank.) Since its inception critics have pressed the company to be up front with donors about exactly how its milk is being used and the price of its final product. When Prolacta's milk collection depots were first set up, they didn't mention the milk was being collected for a for-profit company. It was only after significant pressure, both from bloggers and mainstream media, that Prolacta's milk collection depots started to be upfront about the relationship.

For profit milk-banking - Women's Health News, 2006
Prolacta Milk Banks - forum discussion, 2006
The advantages and disadvantages to non-profit and for-profit milk banks - IBS blog, July 2007
Milking it in California July 2007
You're Going to Want To Read This - IBS blog, July, 2007
Thinking of Donating Your Breastmilk? Read This First - IBS blog, Sept. 2, 2007
Milk Money - Salon, 2007
Executives in search of milk donations - Breastfeeding Truth, 2010
Swindled: The ugly side of milk donation - Just West of Crunchy, 2011

Anxious to combat growing negative publicity, Prolacta began forging corporate sponsorship relationships with charities - first the March of Dimes, then the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and now the Make-A-Wish Foundation:

Our mission is the unique integration of two very compelling goals: to collect excess breast milk from qualified donors for premature infants, and simultaneously give back to the community in a significant and meaningful way by financially supporting selected charities based on the amount of donated milk received.

This rubbing of shoulders with respected charities an excellent way to shine up a tarnished brand. Prolacta benefits hugely from its association with these well-known charities.

See how it works? It's no longer just about helping premature babies get the human milk they need. If you donate milk in the name of one of these charities, Prolacta seals the deal with a $1.00/ounce donation back to that charity. So now, not only are you helping sick babies to live, you're fighting breast cancer, or you're helping a children's charity - why, you can even make the wishes of very sick and dying children come true with every ounce of extra milk that comes from your breasts.

Prolacta isn't just polishing its own brand, it is basking in the brand equity glow built up over years by these legitimate charities.

Phase II of this Prolacta marketing makeover is now actively under way.

Moms don't go directly to Prolacta and say, "I'd like my milk to benefit Susan G. Komen, or the Make-a-Wish Foundation."

Prolacta has instead created a separate Internet presence to market its new method of donor milk acquisition. It began by establishing the Helping Hands milk bank a year or so ago. The Helping Hands website is clear - it is run by Prolacta Biosciences in partnership with Susan G. Komen, and it is through this portal that moms ensure $1.00 for every ounce of milk they donate is paid to Susan G. Komen to help fight breast cancer. When moms fill out their donor application through this website, their milk donations translate into dollars Susan G. Komen. More than 100,000 ounces donated generated more than $100,000 for Susan G. Komen in 2011, with $41,000 sent in the third quarter of 2011 alone.

Prolacta's new Milk for Wishes website
Now, Prolacta has gone a step further. Buried in the Make-A-Wish Foundation news release mentioned above is a link to the brand new Milk-For-Wishes website. Also owned by Prolacta, looks and feels just like the Make-A-Wish Foundation's site - right down to the stars, curvy lines, and featured stories of children's wishes. The visual similarities are a powerful way for the warm fuzzies generated by Make-A-Wish to rub off on Prolacta.

Make-A-Wish Foundation website
Prolacta has gone a long way to answering criticisms about a lack of transparency with their involvement in these donor milk collection sites. It now clearly lists on its website affiliations with all of its milk collection depots and it is very clear about directly operating and owning the and sites.

This clarity is a sign of more mature marketing execution - their lack of transparency in the early days reflected an old-school P.T. Barnum "there's sucker born every minute" style that didn't count on the suckers having access to Google.

Barnum is often maligned for this philosophy, and in fact, the "sucker" quote is wrongly attributed to him. Barnum did say, "I don't believe in duping the public" and in his later years spent considerable effort exposing charlatans who preyed on bereaved widows by claiming to communicate with the dead.

Prolacta appears to have learned from its early experiences where it duped moms into donating milk to a company selling a product for profit. But are its current marketing efforts to attract donors - moms who would otherwise contribute to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America's network of not-for-profit milk banks - any more ethical, just because Prolacta is being honest?

Updated Friday, Aug 31 to add to the list of blog posts covering Prolacta's early years.

Monday, August 20, 2012

New England milk bank opens new depot at parenting centre in Hanover, Mass.

Drop off depots for donor human milk make donating easier for moms!
Human milk bank movement expands with Mass. depot - Brattleboro Reformer
By BRIDGET MURPHY / Associated Press
Posted: 08/20/2012 03:00:00 AM EDT
Monday August 20, 2012
NEWTONVILLE, Mass. -- Cynthia Miller pumped breast milk for her daughter last year while the newborn struggled to survive in a Boston neonatal intensive care unit.
But when baby Vivian lost her battle, Miller knew other mothers from the hospital who still wanted breast milk for their own preemies’ fights.
Mothers who, unlike Miller, weren’t able to make their own milk.
With that in mind, Miller and her husband donated her frozen milk reserves to a nonprofit that opened last August in Newtonville.
Now a year into operation, officials at Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England said it’s the only facility of its sort in the region and one of only a dozen similar operations in North America.
"We were happy we could do that," Miller, a 38-year-old Newton resident, said of their donation. "... Had we been in a similar situation, where we couldn’t provide, we would have turned to the milk bank."
The milk bank recently expanded its operation to include a drop-off point at a parenting center in Hanover, Mass., about 20 miles south of Boston.
Bank officials are hoping the depot will make it more convenient for other mothers with breast milk reserves to make donations. The depot is a freezer unit inside Isis Parenting, a private business that’s donating space for the ongoing collection effort.
In nearby South Weymouth, Mass., South Shore Hospital started using milk bank donations 
a year ago to feed preemie patients who are weaning off intravenous nutrition.
Physician John Fiascone, the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit medical director, said preemies digest breast milk more easily and it helps protect them against necrotizing entercolitis, an intestinal infection that can be deadly.... more

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Infant formula companies behind "drugs to boost breastmilk production are dangerous" messaging

This is a must read blog post by IBCLC Diana Casser-Uhl, who blows the whistle on who appears to be behind a new effort to use the media to create fear and loathing over the use of pharmaceuticals to address problem when something goes wrong with human milk production. Apparently it's ok to take drugs to fix thyroid problems or erectile dysfunction, but if mothers take drugs to fix low milk production, it becomes "dangerous ... extreme measures."

Diana draws attention to a connection between a recent mommy blog post and the International Formula Council. This formula company industry association representing Abbot, Mead Johnson, Nestle, Perrigo and Pfizer is the funder behind what, on the surface, appears to be typical mommy blog.

The post begins:
"Here's an alarming fact: The pressure to breastfeed had gotten so out of hand that new moms are now taking pills prescribed for GI problems to increase their milk production! " 
Who benefits when the practice of taking a drug that boosts prolactin levels, which in turn boosts milk production, is "dangerous," or "extreme breastfeeding?" Yes, you've got it! Formula companies sell more product when moms can't make milk for their babies.

It seems to me that mainstream media outlets and their cousins on the Internet are more interested in boosting their numbers to make advertisers happy than they are in anything resembling investigative journalism. The television producer chasing this story didn't even notice the foul smell.

We need to ask ourselves whenever we see negative publicity about breastfeeding - who stands to gain when human beings don't produce human milk for their human babies?

Check out Diana's blog post - it's well worth the read.
When the media spins the biological norm 
I am often asked, through networks of professionals, to connect a reporter or media representative to breastfeeding mothers in a particular situation. There are some requests that I scramble to satisfy, without reservation, because either the journalist is one whose work I am familiar with (and is truly supportive of breastfeeding), or because the population they are looking for is one that can benefit from exposure. I’m all for raising awareness and bringing less-known breastfeeding topics into the cultural mainstream. more

Donor human milk efforts intensify in the Philippines

Donor human milk banking is intensified in this country as part of its long battle to boost breastfeeding rates.

IRIN Asia | PHILIPPINES: Banking breast milk to save lives
Photo: Jason Gutierrez/IRIN
A mother breastfeeds one of her twin babies at Jose Fabella Medical Hospital
MANILA, 13 August 2012 (IRIN) - The Philippine government's state-run breast milk bank is intensifying collection efforts to boost breastfeeding among the poor and help women return to work immediately after giving birth if they want to do so.

Hundreds of women come to have their babies at the Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, the busiest maternity institution in Manila, the capital, where more than 12 million people live. Many women are barely able to afford even the minimal payment, and to help cover their costs some of them donate breast milk to the hospital’s milk bank, which is used to feed babies whose mothers have lactation problems.

Esmeraldo Ilem, head of the hospital's family planning unit, said the milk is also sold at up to US$10 for four litres to other hospitals and individuals, with mothers as a first priority. “Even hospitals in far-flung areas or provinces come here to buy milk from us," Ilem told IRIN. "[For instance,] when a mother dies in a hospital [where there is no milk bank, the family] comes here to source the milk."... more

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

World Breastfeeding Week: More babies are receiving donor human milk in Canada |

I'm honoured to be featured as a guest blogger on ICLA's "Lactation Matters" blog for World Breastfeeding Week. And I am excited to be able to tell the world that more of Canada's babies are receiving donor human milk!
Photo via Calgary Mothers' Milk Bank
World Breastfeeding Week: More babies are receiving donor human milk in Canada 
Posted on August 7, 2012 by lactationmatters
By Jodine Chase
It’s been almost two years since the Canadian Pediatric Society called for a network of donor human milk banks across Canada to join the country’s single milk bank in Vancouver. Now, across the country, more babies have the option of donor human milk when mother’s milk is not available.... (full article)