No one knows how critical it can be for hospitals to maintain a solid supply of breast milk more than Katherine Rolkosky.
Rolkosky recently gave birth to a daughter, who was born 10 weeks early and was a patient in Forrest General Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) while Rolkosky was in FGH’s adult ICU. Because of the condition of mother and daughter, breastfeeding was impossible, and the baby depended on donated human milk for nearly two months.
“I have always been a big promoter of breastfeeding,” said Rolkosky. “It frustrated me because I wasn’t able to give my daughter the milk she needed; however, the donor breast milk truly made a difference in her life.”
The Rolkosky story is not an isolated one — NICUs have a constant need to keep safe, dependable human milk on hand, and Forrest General has launched an innovative breast milk-donation program to meet the issue.
Opened for approximately a month now, the Forrest General milk depot was established to boost breast milk supply by offering lactating mothers a place to donate their milk.
Hospital officials are calling the early returns a complete success — last month, the milk depot program received over 4,700 ounces of donated breast milk. Twelve women have been screened for the program, and seven are already making donations.
“I’m ecstatic that it has been so successful. This one intervention is saving the lives of so many premature babies,” said Clint White, M.D., neonatologist at Forrest General.
Receiving the donations is only half of the effort — the milk must be processed. To that end, Forrest General has contracted with the Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin in Texas. Formed in 1999, Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin was initially conceived to supply safe breast milk to health care facilities in Central Texas. Since then, it has grown to provide human milk to facilities across the U.S.
“We currently serve four hospitals in Mississippi, but Forrest General is the only one that has contracted with us that has formed a depot program,” said Kim Updegrove, RN, CNM, MSN, MPH, executive director of the Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin. “While the general public is aware of the need for hospitals to maintain a safe supply of blood, many are unaware that hospitals also need a safe supply of breast milk. This needs to be addressed — we need to raise awareness. Forrest General Hospital is doing that.”
The Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin (www.milkbank.org) pools and pasteurizes donated milk to kill any bacteria or viruses using guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Human Milk Bank Association of North America (HMBANA). Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin claims the pasteurization process destroys only a small percentage of milk’s beneficial properties — approximately 70 percent of the immune factors that help protect babies from illness are preserved. Before pasteurized milk is dispensed, bacteriological testing is done to ensure its safety.
Keeping these healthy properties in human milk is essential to infants’ health, White said.
“Babies on breast milk grow better, have higher IQ’s, fewer allergies, 40 percent fewer ear infections and are 20 times less likely to get gut infections,” he said Clint White.
Women who are currently breastfeeding infants under one year of age are eligible to be screened at no charge to become human milk donors.
“We have always encouraged mothers to provide her own milk for her infant if she is able,” said Jennifer Massey, NNP-BC. “However, it wasn’t until January 2011 that we started using donor milk and fully comprehended the process the milk goes through, demand and sometimes shortages that the milk banks face. The Mother’s Milk Bank in Austin projected to need approximately 700 donors to meet the demand for the 2013 year; however, they only had 230 donors earlier this year. We quickly decided that we would open up a donor site here at Forrest General to give our local mother’s an opportunity to donate. It took approximately three or four months to open the depot to the public.”
Although a woman can donate her breast milk regardless of where she lives, the milk depot located at Forrest General makes it easier for Hattiesburg-area donors. The hospital’s milk collection sites offer approved donors of expressed breast milk a local place where they can drop off their milk rather than ship it to the milk bank. Although the milk bank covers the shipping charges, dropping off the milk can be much easier on the mom who is working hard to feed her own infant while also storing milk for other tiny infants.
“For moms who want to help pre-term infants, milk depots make it easy to donate their milk,” said Updegrove. “Forrest General’s milk depot has raised awareness of the importance of breast milk for all babies, but most especially for those babies small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.”
The lack of available mother’s milk is an international issue. Just last November, the HMBANA issued an emergency call for donations due to a shortage of supply across the U.S. and Canada. Yet, the issue persists.
“We are facing acute shortages of donations from moms, the HMBANA website states. “Right now, we simply do not have enough milk to feed all of the fragile newborns in the hospitals we serve.”
For information on Forrest General’s milk depot, call the hospital’s Lactation Department at (601) 288-3763.
For more on HMBANA, which offers a number of other milk-donation resources, visit www.hmbana.org.