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Your Healthy Family: Neonatal Intensive Care units rely on donor breast milk for premature babies

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Dr. Mary Laird says she commonly sees some understandable reluctance when people are first introduced to the idea of using breast milk from another woman. Dr. Mary Laird says she commonly sees some understandable reluctance when people are first introduced to the idea of using breast milk from another woman.
COLORADO SPRINGS -

Today we're learning about donor breast milk and why it's so beneficial for babies and are there any risks with using it?

Randine Langan is a Colorado Springs mom, who knows first hand that a mother's desire to nurse her children doesn't mean it's always easy.

Randine says, “With my first son it was kind of survival mode, I nursed him for about 6 months and then it was done, and then with my second it was the same story, I would have to get up in the middle of night,  to pump to have enough milk to send him to daycare the following day.”

She had seen pamphlets about donating breast milk and was curious about it, but also had reservations, “I think that was part of like my initial ummmm, I don't know about this.  I always thought to myself as a mom would I use donor milk? I don't know the person and you know it's a bodily fluid.”

Then when Randine was pregnant with her third child, about the same time her cousin, who is more like a sister to her, was also expecting.  Randine says “Her daughter was due in march and my son was due in may.  It just so happened that when her daughter was born she had some complications, and ended up in the NICU.  They had to use donor milk to feed her, and when they did that, it really hit home to me and I started thinking, if there's any way that I can possibly do this I want to.”

Dr. Mary Laird is a neonatologist on the NICU at UCHealth Memorial who says she commonly sees some understandable reluctance when people are first introduced to the idea of using breast milk from another woman.

Dr. Laird says, “There is an “ick” factor, and then my question to them is often ‘would you rather use breast milk from another human mother, or (formula made from) another species milk’?  We really try to approach it from the scientific and medical approach.  Using donor milk to fill the gap will help a baby, thrive, grow, survive, and get to the point where they hopefully can get their mother's milk.”

Dr. Laird also points out, not just anyone can become a donor.  “Every mother who volunteers to donate milk goes through a significant screening process about her own health.  Her doctor has to attest to her health, and that she has enough milk for her own baby.  Then she has blood testing for the hepatitis, HIV and syphilis.  The milk is transported at no cost to the donor, to the human milk bank where that milk goes through a pasteurization process that helps to get rid of any bacteria and viruses.”

Randine began to feel more comfortable with donor breast milk when she learned about the donor process.  “Once I saw the process it went through, and all of the intensity of different kinds of doctors visits that you had to have, the interviews and phone interviews and the paperwork you fill out.  I felt like if I can help another baby in another family then I'm definitely going to do it.  When my son was born in May I started pumping right away and started saving it and I wanted to get him through his first year, and so in late march after he was born I looked into it and contacted the mother's milk bank and went from there.”

Randine hopes becoming a donor is something other moms will consider.  “I would definitely encourage new moms that if they do need to utilize donor milk, remember it goes through a pretty extensive process.  I would also encourage any moms that do have a surplus of milk to look into it and possibly consider being a donor also.”

In our next and final story for World Breastfeeding Week, we'll share the story of a Colorado Springs couple who had twin sons born six weeks early, who directly benefited from donated breast milk while they were in the UCHealth Memorial NICU.  

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