Donate Breast Milk, Save Preemies' Lives
Human milk dramatically boosts the chances for sick and fragile newborns to survive; however, not every mom can produce it. By Summer Cassidy, RN, BSN, IBCLC, Lactation Educator, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Advocate Lutheran General Children's Hospital.
Every day, I work with new mothers to assist them in nursing their newborns. If their baby is premature or sick, I help them pump so they can establish and maintain their milk supply. Aside from the numerous advantages that human (breast) milk provides to the healthiest newborns, it is highly recommended for premature babies who spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
For these infants, human milk has life-saving health benefits:
- Lowers risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)—the most common and most fatal gastrointestinal emergency in the NICU.
- Decreases risk of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)—a potentially blinding eye disease that is primarily seen in premature babies.
- Lowers sepsis (infection) rates.
- Decreases length of stay in the NICU by approximately two weeks.
- Decreases incidence of feeding intolerance and diarrhea.
The NICU mothers I work with understand the importance of their milk. They pump so that they can provide their infants with this life saving milk. Unfortunately, not every mother can breastfeed or provide all of her infants nutritional needs by pumping. This may be a result of a low milk supply, the need to take medications that could be passed through her system, cases of adoption or surrogacy, or if the mother is too ill. Until recently, we have been like every other hospital in the area and had no choice but to give these at-risk babies formula. However, a new program that my department developed is making it possible for all qualifying NICU babies to receive human milk.
Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital is the first Chicago-area hospital to offer a Donor Milk Program to babies in the NICU. While several area hospitals are planning to implement similar programs, we are currently the only hospital offering pasteurized donor human milk to sick and fragile infants. Since the program began in April of 2011, we’ve seen incredible results in the health of our NICU babies with NEC rates decreasing significantly.
Our Donor Milk Program follows guidelines from the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), which regulates all aspects of the process. Here’s how it works:
Collection – As wonderful a gift as donated breast milk is, not every woman can be a human milk donor under HMBANA guidelines. Women must undergo rigorous medical tests, including blood testing for HIV and Hepatitis, and pass strict lifestyle criteria before their milk will be accepted. Once approved, women ship their milk to the milk bank or bring their donated milk to a Milk Depot facility, where it is stored frozen and shipped for processing and pasteurization.
Pasteurization – Once donated milk has been received at the Milk Bank, it is pooled and pasteurized to destroy viruses and bacteria. After pasteurization, the milk is tested again to ensure that is safe for the babies.
Delivery – We currently receive shipments of pasteurized donor human milk from the Indiana Mother’s Milk Bank and will soon begin receiving milk from the Mother’s Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes. After receiving consent from parents, we can ensure that their babies in the NICU are receiving 100% human milk exclusively, which significantly increases their chances of surviving and thriving. Mother’s milk is used first. If unavailable, pasteurized donor human milk is used to ensure optimal health and nutrition.
In our first six months of operation at Lutheran General, we provided nearly 3,000 ounces of pasteurized donor human milk to babies. And because we feel that this program is so important, Advocate Lutheran General covers any program costs that a family’s insurance doesn’t.
The success of our Donor Milk Program has inspired us to take it a step further. In January 2012, Lutheran General Hospital began screening potential human milk donors and accepting milk, making us home to the first Milk Depot in Northern Illinois.
If you would like to help improve the life of a newborn in this area through the gift of breast milk, or if you would like more information about out donor milk program, please contact Lucia or Summer at (847) 723-7341.
Pasteurized donor human milk improves infant outcomes and saves lives.
Summer Cassidy, RN, BSN, IBCLC, is a lactation educator at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital.