Breastfeeding Heroes Make Big Impact

Note: In honor of August being National Breastfeeding Month and August 1-7 being World Breastfeeding Week, we thought we would highlight the moms who are feeding not only their own children but also many premature babies as well.

If it takes 20 minutes to pump 3 ounces of breast milk, the moms who donate milk to the Mother’s Milk Bank of North Texas donate about 11 hours of their time each time they bring in a batch.

“These donor moms are our heroes,” said Amy Trotter, MMB’s community relations director. “They’re so generous.”

And the milk these mothers donate really is a labor of love. “We are a nonprofit,” Trotter said. “Mothers don’t receive any compensation for their milk. It’s purely for altruistic reasons.”

Trotter said that some mothers produce a lot of milk and are happy to pump, store and donate that extra supply. Some mothers find that their child (for various medical reasons) cannot drink the milk they’ve stored and wish to donate it. Others are motivated by a feeling of gratitude after their children benefitted from donor milk at some point.

“The perfect mom for us is an overproducer,” Trotter said. “We don’t want a mom to give us milk their baby should need.”

“Some moms realize their freezer is getting full and are looking for a way to do good with it,” she said, adding that “we do initially ask for 100 ounces usually.”

“When a mom is interested in becoming a donor, she’ll call in and talk to one of our donor coordinators,” Trotter explained. “We will conduct a phone interview to get a medical history, any medications, etc. Then we will ask for a letter that says they’re in good health from their doctor.

“Then we send them a donor packet.”

Trotter said that for safety’s sake “we do require a blood test. We pay for that. And we also try to set it up for them at a location close to their home.”

The blood test checks for communicable diseases. “Once that blood test comes back clear, we give the mom a donor number,” she said.

But a blood test isn’t the only way the bank works to make sure the milk is safe. The bank also works with lactation consultants to educate moms about best practices if they wish to become milk donors.

“Another way we make sure the milk is safe is that we pasteurize it,” Trotter explained. The milk is logged into a sophisticated computer system that tracks each batch as it makes its way through processing.

“The milk is pasteurized through the Holder method,” she said. “It’s specific for human milk and keeps as much nutrients as possible, but still kills any bacteria and viruses like HIV, Ebola or Zika.”

And after the pasteurization process, each batch is tested again. “We also make sure every batch is bacteria-free before we send it out,” Trotter added.

But who gets the milk? Trotter said that right now the bank works with neonatologists and hospitals to supply milk. “We’d love to provide every baby in the area with breast milk if they need it, but we have to focus our donations on the babies who need it most — the medically needy babies,” she added.

“We actually fill orders for hospitals,” she said. Neonatologists will order it by various calorie counts, depending on the baby’s needs. “It’s sent out by prescription only.”

Studies are beginning to show a real benefit to feeding premature babies breast milk — avoiding an almost-always fatal complication called necrotizing enterocolitis. In fact, the NEC Society, a group of families, researchers and doctors who study NEC, pointed out that a recent American Academy of Pediatrics study recommended breast milk for premature babies as a way to possibly avoid the complication.

“When mother’s own milk is unavailable for premature infants, pasteurized donor breast milk is the next best option,” the NEC Society said. The group maintains a list of hospitals that use donor milk, and that list includes Texas Health Harris Methodist Fort Worth.

Chances are there’s a donation drop off location for a Mother’s Milk Bank near you — the organization has 40 drop off sites, including Texas Health Harris Methodist HEB, Texas Health Huguley Hospital Fort Worth South, Texas Health Cleburne, Texas Health Harris Southwest and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano.

“A van picks up the donations and brings them back to processing,” Trotter said, adding that even vacations or extended time away from home isn’t an impediment to donating.

“We also will pay for shipping and supplies in case moms want to send their donations while they’re on vacation,” she said.

Trotter said that the donation of time and love really does go a long way. “It’s hard to quantify how many babies we help because we don’t know the specific patient the milk goes to after it leaves our site,” she explained. “But we estimate helping about 6,000 hospitalized infants a year — about 500 a month.”

And the math is amazing. “One ounce of milk can feed three premature infants or provide one infant three feedings,” Trotter said. “It actually does go a long way.”

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