Liquid Gold at Local Milk Bank

A 2005 policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics identifies human breast milk as having, “health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, psychologic, social, economic, and environmental benefits.” With such lofty praise, it’s no wonder that moms who nurse refer to breast milk as liquid gold, and doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, friends and family members encourage mothers of newborns to nurse.

But what happens if a mother can’t create enough milk or has an especially sick child who needs breast milk later in life? What happens if a family adopts a baby and still wants to be able to provide breast milk for that child?

WakeMed’s Mothers’ Milk Bank and Lactation Center can help.

Started in 1992, the Raleigh facility is one of only nine human milk banks in the United States. According to Bonnie Moore, supervisor of the Mothers’ Milk Bank and Lactation Center, “Babies thrive on human milk. When mothers are unable to provide it, they can turn to donor milk.”

Who gets the breast milk?

The recipients of this liquid gold range from premature infants to extremely sick children and adults. Adoptive parents also turn to the milk bank to provide breast milk for their babies.

Moore says that they provide frozen breast milk to intensive care nurseries at five local hospitals and Chapel Hill’s Birth Center as well as to babies in need across North Carolina and the entire East Coast.

“The first people we serve are the babies at WakeMed, and then all the intensive care nurseries [at our local hospitals], and then sick kids in North Carolina and hospitals on the East Coast, and sick kids in other states or people with adopted babies,” Moore explains. “Healthy babies are the last ones to get extra milk we may provide; however we rarely turn down a request.”

Where does the milk come from?

The Mothers’ Milk Bank has a rigorous donor-screening program and follows the Human Milk Banking Association of North America’s guidelines on milk donation and processing.

“Our donors are healthy, lactating women who are drug-free and smoke-free and go through an extensive screening process. We only accept milk from women within one year or less after giving birth,” Moore says.

Melissa Drenzek, a yoga instructor from Raleigh, was a recipient and is now a donor for the Milk Bank. When her daughter was born, she had jaundice and was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UNC-Chapel Hill. Drenzek and her husband were told that their daughter would require additional feedings to combat her jaundice.

Since Drenzek’s breast milk had not yet come in, the staff recommended supplementing with formula. However, Drenzek remembered hearing about the Milk Bank in her childbirth class and suggested going that route instead.

“We encountered some resistance from the doctors because they didn’t realize the ease of getting donor milk. However, our daughter was in the NICU for 2½ days and got donor milk through the Milk Bank,” Drenzek says.

Later, when Drenzek’s daughter was about 2 months old and Drenzek’s milk was established, Drenzek began donating breast milk to the bank and advocating among her friends and students to do the same.

Drenzek is thrilled her daughter was able to benefit from the program and that she is able to give back to it. “We were able to come full cycle,” she says.

How is the milk received and distributed?

The logistics of milk donation and receipt are amazing. Breast-feeding moms across the East Coast express their breast milk, and whatever they do not need for their own babies they freeze and mail to the Milk Bank. The Milk Bank then thaws the milk, pools it together with many donors, and heat-treats it to kill any possible viral or bacteria contamination. The treated milk is then refrozen for distribution.

To get milk from the bank, recipients can provide a prescription from their doctor and (depending on their insurance) pay the cost of the milk, which starts at around $4.50 per ounce, including the transportation fees. Local families may pick up their milk from the bank or their regional hospital or have it shipped directly to their home. Likewise, families across the East Coast may acquire milk the same way.

Donna-Jean Keim of Cary felt fortunate that the Milk Bank was a local stop for her. After breast-feeding her elder son, Keim and her husband felt strongly about providing breast milk for their adopted younger son. Keim’s pediatrician was supportive of their decision and wrote the script.

“I feel so strongly about the benefits of breast milk, and everyone [at the Milk Bank] has been wonderful and supportive,” Keim says. She is thrilled her insurance picks up some of the expense of the milk, “though we would have purchased the breast milk for our son even if they didn’t,” she says.

Keim is thankful for the donors, also.

“The donors are fantastic. There are a lot of people who have children that need this milk to thrive. The donors get no money and are doing this all on their own,” Keim says.

With the many benefits of breast milk being promoted, families might feel that if they can’t provide it for a long period, it’s not worth providing at all, but Moore says that viewpoint just isn’t true. “Any window, even one day, is beneficial,” she says.

As an international board-certified lactation consultant, Moore does her best to encourage moms to attempt to breast-feed, even if they need to supplement with additional breast milk or formula.

“Most moms want [the best] for their babies. We give them a lot of information about breast-feeding and breast milk so they can make a decision,” she says.

The Milk Bank strives to make it possible for any family that needs breast milk to have it.

For information about the WakeMed Mothers’ Milk Bank and Lactation Center, contact Bonnie Moore at bmoore “at” wakemed.org or 919-350-8599.

Robin Whitsell is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chapel Hill. She can be reached at www.robinwhitsell.com.

Categories: BT Health & Wellness, Exceptional Child, Health, Special Topics