Chicago’s Human Dairies (3-14-1926)

Chicago’s health commissioner, Dr. Herman Bundesen, believed that breast milk was vitally important to an infant’s health.  Today he announced a program to make the milk available to all the city’s babies.

Nursing mothers who had surplus milk would be encouraged to sell it to the city health commission. The milk could then be resold to mothers who were unable to nurse their own babies.  Bundesen called his plan “human dairies.”

Dr. Bundesen

Dr. Bundesen

Wet nurses had been around since ancient times, but the practice was dying out. Beginning  in 1911, human milk banks had been set up in Boston, New York, Buffalo, and other cities. All of them were run by private charities.  Chicago’s would be the first operated by a government agency.

The health commission would pay 10-cents-per-ounce for the milk. The average donor might earn about $2.50 each day–enough to stay home with her baby, and not have to get a job. The sale price for the milk would be based on what the buyer could afford, up to a maximum of 30-cents-per-ounce.

No woman would be denied milk if she were unable to pay for it. “We have gone into this project essentially for the poor and orphan babies, and have no idea of commercializing the plan,” Bundesen said. “Our purpose is not to make money, but to save lives.”

Initial costs were budgeted from the commission’s discretionary fund.  That would provided up to $5,000 for setting up neighborhood collection stations. Once the program got going, it would be self-sustaining.

Trained nurses were to be on hand at each of the stations. If a donor had trouble providing milk, a special electrical stimulator might be employed.  Some mothers using this device had produced nearly a gallon of milk in a single day.

Preparing milk for distribution

Preparing milk for distribution

Bundesen emphasized that donors would be carefully screened. “In addition, we will supply our mothers with fresh fruit and vegetables, with fresh milk from healthy cows, and with ice cream,” he said. “Their milk will be plentiful and nutritious.”

The Chicago breast milk bank became a popular and successful program. Dr. Herman Bundesen remained in charge on the city’s public health until his death in 1960.

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