The Mothers’ Milk Bank of Ohio wants it.
Ohio is facing a milk shortage — as in human breast milk.
The nonprofit milk bank that processes donated human breast milk to distribute primarily to sick and premature babies can’t keep up with demand.
When the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Ohio started in 2005, it distributed about 5,000 ounces of pasteurized human breast milk per month to neonatal intensive care units and other medical providers.
Today, roughly 22,000 ounces are being shared monthly.
During one recent month, “we could have sent out 30,000 ounces if we had enough,” said registered nurse and lactation consultant Diane Bates, who coordinates the state human milk bank, based at Grant Medical Center in Columbus.
As awareness grows about the many benefits of breast milk, demand has increased significantly in recent years.
In some cases, mothers are even buying breast milk from lactating women who sell it online — a practice that’s discouraged by health experts because of the lack of oversight and testing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics this year issued a policy statement indicating that “all preterm infants should receive human milk.
“Mother’s own milk, fresh or frozen, should be the primary diet. ... If mother’s own milk is unavailable despite significant lactation support, pasteurized donor milk should be used.”
At Akron Children’s Hospital, all newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and special care nurseries weighing less than 3.3 pounds are given donated breast milk — with parental consent — if mothers are unable or unwilling to provide their own milk, said Dr. Anand Kantak, director of neonatology.
Mothers are encouraged to pump their own breast milk for their babies whenever possible, Kantak said.
“Breast milk is medicine that no one can provide but the moms,” he said. “We don’t use the statement, ‘Are you planning to breastfeed?’ We use the statement, ‘You are providing breast milk, correct?’ ”
Premature babies benefit
At least 75 percent of NICU mothers with very low birthweight babies now provide breast milk for their babies, compared to less than half about four years ago, he said.
Premature babies benefit from human breast milk, because it is more easily digested and protects against infections and potentially fatal intestinal problems, Kantak said.
Studies also have shown breast milk improves cognitive development and lowers the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
“We do use it as a liquid gold medicine,” said Liz Maseth, a registered nurse and lactation consultant for outpatient and special care nurseries at Children’s.
Some mothers, however, can’t produce enough to feed their child because of illness, use of certain medications, previous breast surgeries or other issues, Kantak said. In those cases, pasteurized breast milk from the donor bank can replace or supplement the mother’s supply.
For Lynn Chwojdak of Streetsboro, the milk bank is helping supplement feedings for her son, Jordan, who was born 10 weeks premature last month.
“It’s very important,” she said. “I didn’t even know that that was an option. I assumed it would have to be formula if I couldn’t make enough supply.”
The Mothers’ Milk Bank of Ohio is one of a dozen members of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which collectively dispensed nearly 2.2 million ounces last year.
Donors are screened
The Ohio milk bank provides the collection containers to donors and covers shipping costs. Donated breast milk is pasteurized and tested before it’s dispensed to prescribing physicians.
The milk bank charges recipients $4.25 per ounce to cover shipping, testing, pasteurization, and staffing costs, Bates said. To become donors, women complete a medical history and blood tests at the milk bank’s expense for diseases, including HIV.
“We have a long donor eligibility screening that is very similar to the Red Cross,” Bates said.
Donors agree to provide 200 ounces to the milk bank, Bates said. There’s no minimum donation for bereaved mothers.
“Most of the times, it’s breastfeeding moms who have extra or they are pumping specifically for the milk bank,” she said. “We have moms who make more milk than their babies can ever use. We have moms who decide they really want to help, so they’ll add a pumping in every day.”
When Carly Donathan of Akron saw her freezer filling up with expressed breast milk that wasn’t used for her infant daughter, Grace, she looked online for a place to donate it.
“I didn’t want to throw it out,” she said.
Over the past four months, Donathan has given 1,100 ounces to Ohio’s milk bank.
“It’s very rewarding, just to know that there are parents who want their babies to have it and I’m able to give them what they need,” she said.
For more information about the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Ohio, go online to www.ohiohealth.com/mothersmilkbank/ or call 614-544-0813.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.