Giving babies a fighting chance
Celebrating 10 years of providing nourishing, donated breast milk
Pregnant with triplets, Sarah Kelly went into premature labor in August 2013, giving birth to her daughter, Ivy, at just 22 weeks. To protect her two other children, Sarah’s obstetrician stopped her labor which meant Sarah, still pregnant, was unable to produce breast milk for Ivy.
Sarah knew breast milk contains antibodies to help babies fight off viruses and bacteria. “That was one thing I always wanted to do was breastfeed my kiddos,” she says. So when her nurses suggested giving Ivy donated breast milk from the OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank, Sarah jumped at the chance. “They told me the next best thing would be donor milk,” recalls the 31-year-old, Orient, Ohio resident.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank. Since it was founded, the organization has grown into an important institution that helps infants like Ivy all over the country benefit from the healing benefits of donated breast milk. One of 15 nonprofit milk banks in the country — and the only one in Ohio — the Mothers’ Milk Bank has created a caring circle. Throughout the past decade, more than 4,000 women have donated milk which has been spread far and wide to serve more than 120 hospitals in 26 states, plus Canada.
“We distribute milk to all of the neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in Columbus, and just about every one of the NICUs in the state,” says Chris Smith, RN, IBCLC, ANLC, the Milk Bank’s outreach coordinator and a lactation consultant. “The standard for care in Columbus for preemies right now is if the mom’s milk is unavailable, we suggest they use donor milk.”
Spreading the message
The Mothers’ Milk Bank was the brainchild of Georgia Morrow, a now retired mother/infant nurse and lactation consultant who worked at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center. She recognized that breast milk was like medicine for preemies and could reduce the risk of serious infections.
In 2002, Georgia purchased — thanks to a $400 grant from the Ohio Lactation Consultants Association — a shipment of pasteurized breast milk from a bank in Texas, one of just five in the country at that time. She distributed the donated milk to NICUs in central Ohio. The experiment demonstrated a critical need, so Georgia and a group of volunteers formally founded the local bank, securing funds to purchase equipment to pasteurize milk in Columbus. The first batch of milk was pasteurized in February 2005 in what had been the pharmacy of the former Doctors Hospital North.
They also began recruiting moms to donate milk. “We are always looking for new donors,” says Chris. The Mothers’ Milk Bank, which is located in the OhioHealth Eastside Health Center, makes it as easy as possible for mothers to donate their excess breast milk once they’ve passed a detailed three-step screening process. Mothers receive storage containers for their milk and can either drop off the milk themselves or ship it to the Mothers’ Milk Bank free of charge.
Chris says nurses faced some resistance from moms when they first started suggesting donor milk.
The nurses used the example of a blood transfusion to help moms understand. “If you were having a blood transfusion, would you want it from a cow or would you want it from another human being?” she says.
Today, resistance to donated milk has almost entirely disappeared, Chris says. “We don’t receive a lot of push back anymore when we bring up donor milk,” says Chris. “And, if we do, we have a conversation with the mom about the benefits.”
When Chris was still a lactation consultant, she would urge mothers who’d lost their babies to consider donating their milk to honor their loved ones. “I would have many moms come back to me later and say, ‘I’m really glad you talked to me about doing that. It helped me heal,’ ” she says.
Sarah Kelly was one of those moms.
Her daughter, Ivy, passed away after 10 days. Ivy’s brothers, Benjamin and Jackson, survived, and Sarah was able to breastfeed them. Blessed with an abundant supply, Sarah decided to begin donating to the Mothers’ Milk Bank around the one-year-anniversary of Ivy’s death as a way to remember her daughter and to help other infants in need.
“Ivy’s situation wasn’t unique,” Sarah says. “Babies are born prematurely every day. If I could make a difference in giving them a chance at one more day, that’s what I wanted to do.”
To learn more about the OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank and to see Sarah tell her story, visit OhioHealth.com/MothersMilkBank.
This story was originally published in the July/August 2015 issue of UpFront, an OhioHealth associate publication.