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Milk Bank Provides Ideal Food for Premature Babies

  • Erika Celeste

Babies born prematurely can face life-long health problems. Often, their organs have not developed fully, which can lead to a variety of serious medical conditions and even death. But a growing trend – based on an ancient concept – may help these tiny newborns. Erika Celeste tells us about Indiana's Mothers Milk Bank.

Lisa Baur had no doubts that she would breast-feed her children. "It's the best thing for them, that's what's motivated me to do it." She nursed her older daughter until she started walking, and plans to do the same with her younger child.

The school counselor and mother of two has an ample supply of breast milk; so much so, that much of it went to waste. But recently the Indiana Mothers Milk Bank began accepting breast milk at a new depot only 40 minutes from her home. And Lisa Baur became the depot's first donor.

The "perfect food" for babies

According to Lutheran Hospital neonatologist James Cameron, "Breast milk is the ideal food for any infant." While he isn't opposed to infant formula, he says when it comes to preemies, human milk with its proteins and specialized sugars is almost like medicine. "The breast milk that the mom's able to provide helps with immunity, helps provide immunity and stimulates gut growth and helps the cells of the gut to grow properly. It's very important for the health of the newborn."

Cameron points out that having nursing mothers provide breast milk for other women's babies is not a new idea. "It's something that's been going on potentially through the course of time with the concept of wet nursing, where you had a mother that wasn't able to breast feed or for social reasons didn't want to breast feed, many, many years ago, would have a wet nurse do the feeding for the baby."

Today, there are many reasons why mothers might not be able to nurse their newborns: they may be too weak to nurse, are taking medications which may endanger their newborn, or simply are not physically capable of producing milk.

A nation-wide resource

There are 11 milk banks around the United States with numerous drop-off depots. The Indiana Mothers Milk Bank opened two years ago, and now has four drop-off locations around the state. The depots are important because they make it convenient for more women to participate.

Lisa Baur says she wanted to donate, but it was too expensive and difficult to get her milk to the main facility. "I was glad when they opened the milk depot here in Fort Wayne, because I couldn't figure out how to ship things on dry ice and get it to Indianapolis," she says. "It's much easier to drive from my house to Ft. Wayne."

While the new depot has only been open a short while, Holly Romary, a registered nurse and lactation consultant with the Indiana milk bank, says the response has been very encouraging and she expects it to keep growing with time.

Screening process keeps milk safe

She explains that women who want to become donors have to go through a screening process. "They have to be free of communicable diseases, fill out a medical history form, they have to do a blood test. They can't smoke, they can't be on any illegal drugs of course." If the mother meets the bank's criteria, she collects and freezes her own milk and brings it in as needed.

At the depot, the milk is pasteurized, analyzed for its nutritional content, labeled and refrozen. The depot has a special freezer for storing large amounts of milk. When it's about three quarters full, the hospital makes its own dry ice to pack the milk in and ships it overnight to the bank.

Romary says the stored milk is distributed to hospitals that need it for a sick or premature baby.

While it may take a little extra effort to be a donor, Lisa Baur says it's well worth it. "It's easy to do and you know you're helping someone."

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