By Guest Blogger Cherrie Welch, MD, Medical Director, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Wake Forest Baptist Health Brenner Children’s Hospital
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all premature babies receive breast milk. Breast milk provides all babies with numerous benefits, including reduced risk of obesity in adulthood, improved IQ and reduced risk of certain types of leukemia. However, breast milk can be especially important to the health of premature babies. It can help their bodies fight against infections – particularly life-threatening intestinal infections – that are common during a long stay in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Babies who consume their mother’s milk have a three times lower risk of these infections than babies who are on formula. That’s why we encourage all NICU moms to pump their milk. This can be a challenge, however. Preemies are often too small to take a bottle or go to the breast, so a mom will sometimes have to pump for weeks or months before ever being able to directly breastfeed her baby. But the advantages it provides the baby are well worth the work. The medicines we have are nowhere near as good as a mom’s milk in helping the baby heal and get stronger.
For various reasons, however, there are some mothers who are unable to produce or pump milk. So that their babies will still have the benefits of breast milk, we offer the option of pasteurized donor breast milk.
Make a Milk Donation
Mothers in the community who are able to produce extra milk, or who have excess breast milk stored in their freezers (frozen breast milk is good for up to a year), are encouraged to donate it.
Donations are handled through a milk bank called Prolacta, which screens, pasteurizes and processes all donations. If you feel you’re able to donate your milk, just visit Milkbanking.net. They will send you a kit with instructions for shipping your milk, including how to schedule a pickup with a shipping carrier. Everything comes to you; you don’t have to leave your house to donate.
Once Prolacta has the donation, they’ll screen it for contaminants, bacteria, toxins and other harmful substances. Then they will pasteurize it. Because it goes through the pasteurization process, donor milk is not quite as beneficial as mom’s own milk. However, donor milk is a good second option—and it’s preferred over formula for premature babies.
Also, because donor milk is in limited supply, it’s only provided to premature babies, as they will benefit from it the most. Term babies can have their mother’s milk or, if that’s not an option, formula.
Please consider donating your milk through Milkbanking.net. If you’re unable to contribute milk but would like to support advancements at the Brenner Children’s Hospital NICU, please call 336-716-7985 or visit our Office of Development online to make a financial gift.