One Massachusetts nonprofit is helping hospitalized babies reap the benefits of consuming breast milk. And its services are in high demand.
Mothers Milk Bank Northeast (MMBNE) screens and pasteurizes milk donated from women, and works with hospitals to ensure premature babies and other infants in need in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) have access to it.
More and more hospitals throughout the East Coast are working with the group to establish partnerships that allow preemies and babies in need to obtain donated milk, Naomi Bar-Yam, the nonprofit's executive director, told The Huffington Post.
According to Bar-Yam, there are numerous reasons why it may be more difficult for mothers of babies in the NICU to breastfeed, which makes the nonprofit's services all the more important. If a baby is born early, for example, the mother's body may not be prepared to produce milk, she said. Stress can also hinder a woman's milk supply, and "having a baby two or three months early and in the NICU is, by definition, stressful."
She said that although there's been a decline in premature births nationally, more medical centers are using donor milk because it's becoming increasingly clear that the nutrition source helps preemies survive and thrive.
NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, for instance, is aiming to offer donated mothers' milk to preemies by the end of March, New York Daily News reported.
“We know that there are benefits for the low-birth-weight baby,” Dr. Martha Caprio, who runs the hospital’s NICU, told the outlet. “Maternal milk does improve outcomes.”
Breast milk helps lower babies' risk of developing a variety of different conditions, according to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health, including childhood leukemia, type 2 diabetes, asthma and lower respiratory infections.
Breastfeeding can be especially beneficial for preemies, advocacy group Breastmilk Counts notes, as they are at higher risk for experiencing health complications. In 2012 in the U.S., about 450,000 babies -- roughly one out of every nine infants -- were born prematurely, that is before 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The NY Daily News reported that, women donate milk to MMBNE for a variety of reasons -- some mothers may have excess milk stored and wish to give away what's not needed, while others may have lost a child after freezing milk in advance.
But getting those donations into more hospitals can be a lengthy process, according to Bar-Yam. She told HuffPost that while MMBNE currently works with about 50 medical centers throughout the East Coast, the group is in talks with about 30 more that are hoping to establish a NICU donor milk program. There are several steps those 30 centers must go through in order to give donor milk to patients.
Theresa McCaffrey -- whose daughter was born four months early last summer -- wasn't able to get her baby donated milk because the hospital at which her child was receiving care didn't have a tissue bank license that included breast milk, NY Daily News reported.
After transferring hospitals, McCaffrey was able to get a prescription for donated milk, but had to purchase it directly from the milk bank and bring it to the hospital on her own.
If things go according to plan, however, more and more moms will be in luck in the coming months, as more hospitals establish new protocol regarding donated milk.
“When I first started doing this a few years ago, there was kind of the ‘Ew, yuck’ factor,” Bar-Yam told the N.Y. Daily News. “We are moving past that, at least in the medical community.”