Other mothers’ milk helps babies

Malorie Hilscher considers herself a lucky mom.

Not only has she been able to produce enough milk for her 10-month-old baby, Grace, but she has milk to spare.

In one case she shared it with a friend who had an infection and couldn’t nurse her own baby for several weeks. But after that, Hilscher still had the problem of milk in abundance.

“I feel really lucky I never had a supply issue,” she said. “I kept saving it and saving it and then ended up throwing some away.”

This despite a national shortage of donated mother’s milk, which after being pasteurized, is most often used to help nourish premature babies, some weighing just a pound at birth.

To help provide the needed milk for these fragile infants, a program is being launched at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. Called a milk depot, it gives moms a place to donate their spare milk.

It is the first program of its kind in the Puget Sound region. Hospitals in Spokane and Vancouver, Wash., already have milk depots.

Dr. Isabella Knox, associate medical director for the Providence’s neonatal intensive care unit, said that one case about three years ago underscored the need for such donations.

“This small, sick baby was born and his mom was really sick, in the intensive care unit,” she said. “I knew she couldn’t make milk. I said ‘I want donor milk for him.’ “

Of the 500 infants treated in the Everett hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit each year at least a third could use donated mother’s milk, said Joanne Burke, who manages the unit.

There’s little question that breast fed are best-fed babies, with lower rates of a number of diseases, including asthma, allergies, childhood leukemia, SIDS, and inflammatory bowel disease.

So it’s especially important for medically fragile, premature babies to be nourished with human milk.

Yet in many hospitals, if a mom can’t produce milk for her pre-term infant, babies in neonatal intensive care units are given formula.

That may soon change. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that pre-term infants should be fed with either a mother’s or a donor’s milk.

A network of 10 nonprofit centers, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, have been opened to process donated mother’s milk. One of those, the Mother’s Milk Bank in San Jose, Calif., shipped 450,000 ounces of mother’s milk last year, said Pauline Sakamoto, executive director.

The charge for the milk $3 an ounce, covers the cost of screening, processing and shipping, she said.

The smallest infants only need a quarter to a half ounce at each feeding, Sakamoto said, so 100 ounces will feed about 300 preterm infants.

There’s a special need for mother’s milk for pre-term babies because the baby is born so early “mom’s bodies sometimes aren’t equipped yet to produce milk,” she said.

Hilscher, 31, who lives in Shoreline, heard that Providence was about to open a milk donation center and signed up to be its first donor.

On Wednesday, she brought a cooler filled with 54 plastic packets of frozen milk to the hospital. The packets contained 450 ounces, or about three gallons of donated milk.

“This program was a perfect match,” she said. “What was I going to do with the extra milk? I’m glad I could help.”

Blood tests will be conducted on all donors to check for HIV and hepatitis B and C.

Potential donors are asked to donate 150 ounces of milk. “If we have four donors a month, I think we can make a sizeable contribution,” Burke said.

Knox said she’s talked to moms who have thrown out their milk because they were moving or their child was no longer breast feeding.

“Now, we have a place to take it to,” she said. “Don’t throw out a drop of milk. It’s liquid gold.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

Learn more

For more information on the Providence Mother’s Milk Depot, a program for lactating moms to donate spare milk, often to pre-term babies, call 425-258-7140

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