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How a donor milk bank helps save the lives of premature babies (and how you can, too)

Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. No one knows that better than parents whose child has been cared for in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

When you first get the news that you’re expecting or when you head into the doctor’s office for your ultrasound, you envision a happy, healthy pregnancy and delivery. Most of us could never predict that our baby might be born prematurely or that our little one’s first weeks would be spent inside the walls of a hospital.

Mother’s milk: the best nutrition for a tiny baby

For families who are living with the reality of a child in the NICU, there are many unexpected challenges. One of those challenges often becomes how to provide the best nutrition for their tiny baby. A mountain of medical evidence has demonstrated that there are clear advantages for mother and baby when a child is breastfed, but what happens when things don’t go as planned and your little one must be cared for in the NICU?

Many mothers pump and store their breast milk to be given to their child while they are cared for in the NICU. However, when infants are born prematurely, sometimes their mothers’ bodies aren’t yet ready to produce milk and they may be unable to breastfeed. In other cases, a mother may be suffering from an illness or taking certain medications that don’t allow her to provide breast milk for her tiny one.

This means that some babies who are ill or born prematurely and are in the most dire need of the life-saving benefits of their mother’s milk aren’t able to receive it.

Fortunately, there is something we can do about that. There is a way that we can provide breast milk for babies who so desperately need it, even when their mother isn’t able to provide it.

Find out about the Winnie Palmer Hospital Milk Depot

Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies operates a milk depot where nursing mothers who have been approved as donors are able to drop off their extra milk to be used by medically fragile babies in desperate need. Infants whose mothers are unable to provide breast milk for them still have the opportunity to receive this lifesaving resource.

Sometimes, these infants need just a few days’ worth of donor milk until their mother’s body is ready to produce milk for them. Others may need to receive it longer until they have reached an age and weight where they can safely transition to formula. Even an ounce of human milk carries life-saving potential that cannot be reproduced with formula.

Human donor milk saves the lives of tiny babies

Donor milk is often used for premature babies and for older babies who are unable to tolerate formula or have a weakened immune system. Research has shown that premature babies who receive breast milk are less susceptible to life-threatening infections, in particular a deadly infection of the digestive tract known as necrotizing enterocolitis.

Infants who have received breast milk in the NICU also experience fewer readmissions to the hospital for the next year of their lives and have less chance of developing eye problems associated with prematurity. Studies have even looked at the long-term benefits, and those that received breast milk in the NICU have shown higher scores on intelligence tests than children in similar circumstances who didn’t receive breast milk.

A nonprofit milk bank is coming soon to Florida

A human milk bank is a facility that processes and sterilizes human milk donations in order to send them to babies in need. Once human milk is collected by a milk depot, it is shipped to a milk bank where the milk is pooled together and pasteurized. The milk bank tests the milk to ensure nutritional quality and safety before shipping the donor milk to babies at hospitals and homes nationwide.

Currently, babies here in Central Florida must have their donor milk shipped from states as far away as Colorado, but not for long. The Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida is nearing completion and is already beginning to take milk donations.

Soon, the critically ill babies here in Central Florida will be able to receive human milk donations from their own community.

How you can help

If you’re interested in donating your milk, you can contact the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida by emailing [email protected] or calling 407-248-5050.

You’ll be asked a few questions over the phone before completing a comprehensive screening form. You’ll need to have your blood drawn for testing (at no cost to you) and then provide your consent as well as a signed release from your doctor and your baby’s doctor.

Once you are an approved donor, you can send your milk directly to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Florida or drop off your milk at Winnie Palmer Hospital.

You can call the Donor Milk Depot at Winnie Palmer Hospital at 321-843-8264 or email [email protected] for more information about dropping off your milk once you have been approved as a donor.

That’s all it takes to play a crucial role in saving the life of a little one.