It's a unique approach to helping some of the tiniest babies not only survive, but also thrive. Memorial Hospital at Gulfport recently became the only collection site in the state for donor breast milk. In some cases, the donor milk is the best option for babies born too soon.
"Human milk, be it from their own moms or from donors, is absolutely the best for these babies," Neonatologist Dr. David Kuhlmann said.
Kuhlmann said mother's milk works wonders for premature babies and their fragile immune systems. Thanks to a recent designation as Mississippi's only collection site for donor breast milk, more of these tiny babies in Memorial Hospital's NICU are getting the precious nourishment.
"You know in the past we didn't have the ability of donor human milk," said Dr. Kuhlmann. "But once human milk was here. We've seen less gut infections. Better growth. It's actually better overall for these babies."
Stephanie Gable, a board certified lactation consultant with Memorial's Breastfeeding Center, said for various reasons, some birth moms are unable to provide milk for their babies, especially babies born too soon. That's where donor milk comes in.
"About a year and a half ago we started getting milk from Austin Milk Bank, and we saw what a difference it made. So we said you know we want to help get the milk there so that we'll have more to get back," said Gable.
Memorial is one of 94 facilities across the country that rely on Mothers Milk Bank of Austin in Texas for donor milk. And quite often, there's a shortage of milk. As a collection site, Memorial hopes to increase the supply, therefore giving more moms the option of using donor milk.
Gable said, "Mississippi is the highest in the nation for premature births, and the majority of those are three pounds or less. Those babies have no immune system whatsoever and rely very heavily on the immunities a mom passes through her milk. We can give vaccinations, but we can't give a one pound baby 10 vaccinations. With just a few drops of mother's milk , we can give those same 10 vaccinations to some degree."
And for those moms who are a bit squeamish about using someone else's milk, they are reassured by the extensive screening process. Donor moms have to be non-smokers, generally healthy, lactating women. They can't be using any illegal drugs, and have to be free of infections. She also needs to be willing to submit to a blood test, and drink less than two ounces of alcohol a day.
The milk is sent to Austin to get processed, and then shipped across the country. Mississippi, though, is very close to building its own milk bank, which would make mother's milk even more readily available to NICU babies.
Something else to consider: For every dollar spent on donor milk, it saves $37 in NICU costs.
If you're interested in learning more about donor breast milk, or want to become a donor, contact the Mothers Milk Bank in Austin at 1-877-813-MILK.
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