Every ounce of breastmilk counts when providing for infants in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Moms are encouraged to donate extra breastmilk to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas, which supplies breastmilk to about 100 hospitals depending on the needs. Moms in Parker County can donate at the Weatherford WIC office at 925 Santa Fe Drive.
“Breastmilk is really important to premature babies,” Weatherford WIC Clinic Supervisor and Nutritionist Rachel Hubbard said. “Their little immune systems are so immature, and the breastmilk provides tons of antibodies to boost up their immune system to help them fight off any germs and bacteria in the outer world that’s not as safe as in mom’s womb.”
Moms can also purchase breastmilk but that can be more expensive, Hubbard said.
Typically, donations come from mothers who overproduce breastmilk, Hubbard said, though sometimes moms will donate breast milk if their baby has died.
“There are a good number of moms that lose their babies and want to provide this life gift for other babies,” Hubbard said.
At the Mothers’ Milk Bank in Fort Worth, these donations are represented via leaves on a wooden depiction of a tree on a wall. Milk bank Community Relations Director Amy Trotter said the mothers of more than 500 babies have donated breast milk since the milk bank’s opening in 2004.
Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas is one of two nonprofit milk banks in the state and serves Texas north of Waco as well as other states without milk banks, Trotter said. Milk is prioritized for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, and 75 percent of donated milk serves them. The milk bank also serves out-patient babies who are not in the hospital but have a medical condition, and 20 percent of the donations serve these babies. The milk bank can also serve healthy babies in the hospital who cannot breastfeed for a few days.
Premature infants are susceptible to necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which is a gut infection that can be deadly, Trotter said.
“That’s really one of the main reasons that physicians order [breastmilk], it prevents babies from getting NEC, or if they do, it really helps them recover,” Trotter said.
More than 4 million ounces of breastmilk have been dispensed via the milk bank’s more than 7,000 donors, according to a milk bank fact sheet. In 2018, 612,747 ounces of breastmilk were dispensed, and 88 hospitals were served.
To become a donor, moms call the milk bank and complete a phone interview that goes over medical history and medication, Trotter said. Then, they have their blood tested for diseases. Donors are also vetted by the milk bank’s executive director and medical director.
Once approved, donors receive instructions on donating and a list of the 44 area drop-off spots, Trotter said.
“We send them a t-shirt, and we just try to treat them like superheroes because we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them,” Trotter said.
Moms donate breastmilk in small storage bags that measure up to about six ounces.
“We’ll have people bring in a Walmart bag full of these [storage bags] or we’ve had people bring in like an ice chest or multiple ice chests full of these,” Hubbard said. “We’ve had everywhere from maybe 15 bags of breastmilk to over 100. We’ve had a mom bring in large coolers, like she brings them in a truck.”
The Weatherford WIC office has collected breastmilk donations since 2014, WIC Clerk Mari Torres said. Since January 2018, the office has received 15 donations. One donation alone was 28 one-gallon bags.
Donation bags are stored in a freezer and are picked up from the drop-off sites by the milk bank. Once at the milk bank, the donations are weighed and entered into the computer system and processed in a laboratory. The milk is thawed, analyzed and mixed with other breastmilk donations based on how many calories the milk needs to have.
“The physicians will order the higher calorie milk for the tinier babies,” Trotter said. “Every mom’s milk is different, and that’s why the analyzation is so important because then we can mix moms milk together.”
The milk goes through a special pasteurization process where it is set in water and heated up to 62.5 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes, Trotter said. The milk is then put back in the freezer and is quarantined until deemed bacteria-free. From there, the milk is sent to hospitals or wherever it is needed.
Trotter said she would encourage moms to donate breastmilk because it saves lives. A single ounce can provide three feedings to a small premature infant.
“A mom who is pumping milk and producing a lot and bringing in 100 ounces, it’s amazing how far that milk goes,” Trotter said. “And they work hard for it, so we would hate for them to throw it away when it can go to good use and protect a fragile infant.”
To learn more, visit www.texasbreastfeeding.org.