Much has been said about the benefits of breast milk for babies. It is the feeding method recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) and the World Health Organization(WHO).
But for the 500 premature babies born each year who contract a potentially deadly disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), breast milk can mean the difference between life and death.
A dozen local mothers joined the second annual nationwide Miracle Milk Stroll this past Saturday to raise funds and awareness for the importance of human milk, including donor milk, for babies with NEC. The San Diego mothers stroll from 6th Avenue Playground, across Balboa Park Bridge to the water fountain in front of the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center, and then back to 6th Avenue Playground.
“We are doing this for more awareness about the life-saving power of human milk for our infants in the NICU,” said Elise Piñon, a local leader at La Leche League and organizer of the San Diego Miracle Milk Stroll, “and for the hospitals to have donor milk available for these infants.”
Miracle Milk Stroll is organized nationally by Best for Babes, a non-profit organization that focuses on education and support for parents making feeding choices for their babies. This past Saturday, thousands of mothers gathered over 100 different locations across the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico to raise funds and awareness for human milk to help save the lives of premature infants from NEC, and help prevent 5,000 babies each year from contracting this often deadly and painful disease.
According to Best for Babes, feeding fragile and compromised babies human breast milk, whether from the mother or a donor, gas been shown to reduce the risk of NEC by 79%. NEC is an inflammation of the bowels that can require multiple surgeries to remove dead tissues, may result in organ failure, months-long neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stays, and lifelong complications and treatment. It can cost up to $1 million to treat per case and the anguish it causes parents is indescribable.
In its most recent policy statement on breastfeeding and human milk, the AAP states unequivocally that “The potent benefits of human milk are such that all preterm infants should receive human milk…If mother’s own milk is unavailable despite significant lactation support, pasteurized donor milk should be used.”
However, the use of donor breast milk is not a common practice in American hospitals. Many mothers with babies spent time in the NICU are encouraged to pump their breast milk for their babies, for premature babies are often not able to nurse directly. But the option of donor milk is often not discussed.
According to NECSoeicty, the AAP’s call for all preterm babies to have pasteurized donor milk when mother’s own milk is unavailable is being ignored. Nearly 60% of the nation’s NICUs do not use donor milk. “It’s a tragedy that more parents, health care providers, medical directors, and hospitals administrators don’t know about donor milk’s existence, accessibility, safety and lifesaving powers for babies in the NICU,” said Jennifer Canvasser, the founder of NECSociety.
On the other hand, informal milk sharing between mothers, not through a milk bank is discouraged by medical professionals due to associated risks.
Currently there are 15 milk banks nationwide that exist to provide donor breast milk to mothers who aren’t able to provide enough breast milk to their babies. Milk banks screen donor mothers to check for health risks, and pasteurize donated milk to ensure it is safe to be given to babies. California has a Mother’s Milk Bank. More information can be found here.
TO-WEN TSENG 曾多聞