Donate breast milk to save lives of vulnerable babies

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — ‘Tis the season for giving, and one local organization has a special plea for lactating women: Consider donating your milk for babies in need.

“We’re here truly to focus on high-risk infants in the NICU and making sure that these infants grow and thrive and make it home to their families,” said Ashlynn Baker, director of Milk Bank Services at the King’s Daughters Milk Bank at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk.

10 On Your Side first told you about the organization last year. Now, Baker is back as donations to the Milk Bank dwindle.

“We do see this trend every year and it does make us worried. Typically, it does increase after the holidays, but we really just want to push families that don’t know about this option that they can get involved,” Baker said.

Baker says the demand for breast milk, which she calls a “life-saving treatment” for premature infants continues to grow not only here in Virginia, but in states up and down the East Coast that the King’s Daughters Milk Bank serves. Baker says they serve more than 40 hospitals stretching from New Jersey to Florida.

“We continue to meet the needs of the hospitals, but looking toward the future, and into the new year, we need to continue to raise awareness and recruit healthy families to share their milk. You know, a blood donor you can have for life. You can donate blood your entire life, but a milk donor has just a very small window in their lactation journey. So, we’re constantly seeking new families to step in and help these babies,” said Baker.

Lactating women can donate their breast milk to the Milk Bank after passing screening requirements.

“The first thing we’d have you do is call the Milk Bank, and we do a quick telephone interview which takes about 20 minutes where we go through lifestyle, health history, and just getting more information about medications, your pumping, your baby’s growth and development, and just making sure that you’d make a good candidate for donation. The screening goes on to include an online, written screening. That includes confirmation of health form to be completed by mom’s OB-GYN, and her own baby’s pediatrician. We want to know that mom had a healthy pregnancy and her own doctor recommends her as a donor.”

Baker says there are a number of lactating women who can donate.

“We do have special programs for mothers who lost their babies, and may want to donate their milk as a legacy, and also for surrogates, or gestational carriers, who have a supply after passing a precious baby over to a family in need. They have extra milk and they want to donate and continue to help other families and babies thrive,” Baker said.

Baker likens breast milk to a medicine for babies in the NICU.

“Our species’ milk has human growth hormones, human proteins, and human antibodies that prevent infection and reduce inflammation, and for premature, and critically ill, infants that are hospitalized in a neonatal intensive care unit, much of them are on life support. They are so small they can fit in just the palm of your hand, and their intestines are incredibly fragile. So, a human milk diet is very gentle and very protective for them and prevents the risk of a devastating bowel disease called Necrotizing enterocolitis by as much as 80% versus formula feeding. Necrotizing enterocolitis is the leading cause of death for premature infants in the NICU. So, this milk is not only preventing death, but it’s protecting them, healing them, nourishing them, and the protective components that they’re exposed to will last through adulthood. So, it prevents diseases through adulthood just being exposed to a human milk diet as an infant.”

According to Baker, it doesn’t take much milk to support sick babies.

“Much of these babies just need half a teaspoon every three hours. They’re so tiny, and they might make it up to an ounce every three hours by the time they’re being discharged from the NICU, but it’s very small volumes with very potent benefits, incredibly life-saving treatment, and it’s all natural, and it comes from the generosity of the families who want to share and want to give altruistically, no strings attached. Just knowing that they’re helping these families, it’s truly a blessing. One of our donors said she felt like she put her hand on a mama’s shoulder and said, ‘I’ve got your back.’ You know? ‘You stay here with your baby. I’m going to get you some milk for your baby.’ And I think it’s a really beautiful thing to see in this day and age.”

The goal is to eventually send healthy babies home to their families.

“Our hearts, and our focus, and our mission are on seeing the best outcome for these babies.”

If you’re interested in becoming a donor, click here.

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