Experts: Moms’ donated milk can help babies

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Human breast milk, no matter whose it is, does a baby good.

Lisa Tuttle’s second son, Henry, was born at 26 weeks and weighed 1 pound and 11 ounces. He quickly needed nourishment and to get his gastrointestinal system working, but Tuttle’s body wasn’t able to produce the breast milk he needed for the first five days of his life.

“I started pumping the day of my delivery,” said Tuttle, a registered nurse on the mom-baby unit at UCHealth Memorial Hospital. “We try to get any NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) mom pumping right away. It tells the body that you’re going to breast-feed and it can take three to five days for milk to come in after a woman delivers.”

But what’s a mom to do in the meantime between delivery and when her milk comes in?

Hospitals often turn to formula, usually derived from cow’s milk, but there’s another, better option that many may not be aware of — donated breast milk.

Mothers’ Milk Bank in Denver, a nonprofit program of Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation, collects, processes and provides donor human milk to babies across the country who may be premature or struggling with severe illnesses.

“I was very familiar with it,” Tuttle said. “It made perfect sense for him to use it. They gave him one milliliter every four hours and gradually started to increase it as he tolerated it. For me, because my milk came in, it was five days’ worth of donor milk and then they began using my milk.”

Moms like Tuttle depend on donors like Kenzie Hudnall, reported The Gazette (http://bit.ly/2cI3CXb). The 20-year-old’s son Kadyn was stillborn after she unexpectedly went into labor in July, almost 23 weeks into her pregnancy. She started pumping her milk the night he was born and asked hospital staff what she could do with it. When they gave her the options, which included donation, the idea immediately appealed to her.

“Babies are born prematurely a lot more than it’s talked about,” she said. “Stillbirths and miscarriages are super common.”

Hudnall has donated about 400 ounces of milk and intends to keep going until her milk stops coming in or she gets pregnant again.

“It helps me come to acceptance of his death a lot quicker,” she said. “It reminds me that he existed and it’s an inspiration. It helps me know I’m doing something good in his name.”

Milk banks

The first milk bank opened in Boston in 1909. Mothers’ Milk Bank opened in 1984 and is now the largest nonprofit bank in North America. The organization has served many hundreds of thousands of babies over more than three decades, said Laraine Lockhart Borman, director of outreach for MMB. There are 22 banks in the United States but only one in Colorado. Last year MMB received more than 700,000 ounces of donated milk and dispensed 630,000 ounces to hospitals and individuals across the country, setting a record for both MMB and milk banking in North America. The nonprofit is on track to donate more than 700,000 ounces this year.

“Almost all the hospitals in Colorado order from us on a weekly or every other week basis,” Borman said. “We serve hospitals out of state — around 130 hospitals. The hospitals with the sicker babies tend to get our milk more.”

Prospective donors undergo a thorough screening process that adheres to strict guidelines set by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. Approved milk donations are pasteurized using the Holder method, which eliminates viruses and bacteria but preserves the milk’s immune properties, and before it’s dispensed the processed milk is tested to confirm acceptability. UCHealth Memorial Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center are donation centers and drop-off locations for MMB.

“They (donors) can save a baby’s life with extra milk by preventing infections, especially in pre-term infants,” Borman said. “They can really do some major good in this world by donating milk. They’re making it anyway and storing it in the freezer and thinking, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ They shouldn’t throw it away. We all need to be out there helping each other. This is a way a mom can help pretty easily, too. It’s pretty easy to be a donor.”

Donor milk vs. formula

While standard formula fills a role, it will never have the same nutritional value as human milk. And while it’s always better for a baby to receive her mother’s milk, donor milk is the next best thing.

“Preemies who get their mom’s own milk are at significantly less risk for a number of infections,” said Dr. Mary Laird, a neonatologist at UCHealth Memorial Hospital. “They are able to move from IV fluid feeds to food that goes into the intestine more quickly than babies who get formula. The same benefit is conferred with donor milk.”

Donor milk also helps decrease the possibility of necrotizing enterocolitis, a potentially life-threatening infection that can affect the intestines of preemies. Invading bacteria can cause removal of part of the intestinal wall, leading to a lifelong problem.

“Necrotizing enterocolitis infection has been one of the leading killers of premature babies,” Laird said. “When babies get their own milk or human milk, they’re much less likely to get that. That is the main benefit of donor milk over formula.”

Tuttle recognizes that some families might be uncomfortable using donor milk.

“If we can, as a nurse, get in there and explain the benefits and that it’s tested for disease and pasteurized and so good for babies,” she said, “most moms are completely on board and really appreciate that we have that for them.”

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