Promoting neonatal health through breast-milk donation

Twenty-seven years ago, I was breastfeeding my first child. Although some would call it a blessing, at the time it didn't fell like one — I had an over abundance of milk. Breast milk frequently leaked through layers of protective clothing, and it seemed as though “eau de leche” was my signature perfume. 

Perhaps some of you out there are experiencing these symptoms yourselves, or have patients or friends in similar situations. I'm sharing this information in the hopes that my self-disclosure may help a good cause.

In the 1980s the opportunities for donating human breast milk were not well publicized or well organized. Today this is a different story. Milk banks now provide life-improving and sometimes life-saving services to many newborns and infants, especially premature infants around the world.

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America operates 10 banks in nine states, two of which are located in Texas.  Since the 1990s this organization has successfully screened breast-milk donors for communicable diseases, similar to how blood banks operate, and pasteurized and tested breast milk for bacterial contamination, similar to the process that cow's milk undergoes before it is bottled for distribution.

Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a call to action to support breastfeeding. One of the action points addresses the need to identify barriers and develop mechanisms to increase the availability of human-donor breast milk. 

A 2011 review published in Perinatology, demonstrated a long list of breastfeeding benefits for premature infants. Infants who were exclusively fed human breast milk experienced immune system boosting, decreased risk for necrotizing enterocolitis, sensory and neurological developmental improvements, and decreased risk for overweight and obesity as adults, compared with infants fed formula.

Currently, there is an urgent need for breast-milk donors. Prescribing human milk to premature infants in intensive care settings is just one example of how primary care health-care providers utilize donated breast milk. Human donor milk can also be beneficial once an infant has been discharged home, for mothers who are seriously ill after delivery and for those who have medical or physical reasons for not breastfeeding. 

Remember that in order for your patients to receive human donor milk, a prescription is required. If a milk bank is not nearby, most will ship overnight to your patient's door.

Donating breast milk has never been easier, as milk banks pay for all costs associated with testing, equipment and shipping. If you are willing to help improve the quality of life, decrease health-care costs and potentially save the life of premature or sick infants, please consider donating milk or encourage others you know to do so. If you have been a milk donor or recipient or have prescribed donor milk for an infant, leave a comment and let others know about your experience.

Julee B. Waldrop, DNP, FNP, PNP, is the Director of the MSN-DNP Program and an associate professor at the University of Central Florida. She provides health care to children at a local community health center.

References

1. Schanler RJ. “Outcomes of human milk-fed premature infants.” Seminars in Perinatology. 2011;36(1):29-33.

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Surgeon General's Call To Action to Support Breastfeeding.” Fact Sheet. Posted online: Jan. 20, 2011.

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