A New Bank Just for Babies
Bringing donated human milk to South Carolina’s tiniest babies
by Katharine H. Hendrix
An idea that was planted three years ago will soon bear fruit with the establishment of South Carolina’s first human milk bank. Sarah N. Taylor, M.D., MSCR, a neonatologist at MUSC Children’s Hospital and Medical Director of the Mother’s Milk Bank of South Carolina, first raised the issue of providing donor milk as the standard of care for infants with breast-feeding difficulties at a 2012 meeting of the South Carolina Neonatal Consortium–a group that includes all of the state’s tertiary- and many secondary-care centers. “There is a decreased risk of death for babies who are born preterm if they receive breast milk. Mom’s milk is better than any medicine we give,” says Taylor. Preterm infants receiving mother’s milk at discharge are less likely to be re-hospitalized and have fewer upper respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms. “Also, they get all the significant long-term health benefits full-term babies do, such as decreased (risks for) leukemia and diabetes,” says Taylor.
Neonatologists have long known that mother’s milk is the best infant nutrition and research now shows that, when the mother’s milk is not available, feeding with donor milk is superior to formula. Taylor illustrates these findings with the example of necrotizing enterocolitis–a serious disease of the digestive tract in which the intestines become inflamed and begin to die. “About 10% of very low birth weight babies get this disease, and a third of those who do die. Another third suffer long-term problems,” says Taylor. “For every 15 babies who receive mother’s milk, you will prevent one case of necrotizing enterocolitis. For every 33 babies who receive donor milk, you will prevent one case of (the disease). So, donor milk is not nearly as good as mother’s milk, but it’s much better than formula.”
Since 2003, MUSC Children’s Hospital has purchased donor milk from milk banks in North Carolina and Texas. However, the administrative burden of shipping the milk over long distances as well as frequent supply shortages make this an expensive and time-consuming process. “We need more moms to donate and South Carolina moms don’t want to send their milk to Texas and then have it shipped all the way back–plus there’s a huge cost savings if we can keep the milk local,” says Taylor.
With support from the South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative, a collaborative formed by the South Carolina Hospital Association and the United States Department of Health and Human Services, South Carolina’s first milk bank will be fully operational within the next six months. “We are months away from pasteurizing the milk. Just like cow’s milk, (it will be) sterile when it leaves the milk bank and will be available to very preterm babies throughout the state.” Furthermore, the Consortium has made it a standard of care that all babies with a birth weight of less than 1500 grams who are hospitalized will receive mother’s milk or donor milk until they are at least 34 weeks of gestational age. “It’s great that there is now this standard across the state for protecting these babies,” says Taylor.
Caption: Image licensed from sciencesource.com.