Pine Belt milk donors aid moms

A mother spends nine long months caring for her baby, physically and spiritually, as he grows and develops. Through all of the prayers, doctor’s visits, baby showers and sleepless nights, no mother wants to think about her baby being born too early or with a serious illness. But when unforeseen complications occur, it’s comforting to know that a team of medical professionals and other moms all over the state are doing everything they can to support families in Mississippi.

Forrest General’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit cares for premature, underweight or sick babies requiring the highest level of care after birth. In the NICU, babies are given breastmilk provided by donors when moms are unable to breastfeed, which helps these infants grow and heal.

“Breast milk, whether it is from an infant’s mother or whether it is donated, is important in the neonatal intensive care unit because of a medical problem premature infants can develop called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). NEC is an inflammatory and infectious process that can cause the abdomen of a premature infant to swell and turn a dark color and parts of the gastrointestinal tract can actually die. Breast milk makes NEC much less likely to occur. Some studies suggest that NEC is 10 times less likely to happen if an infant is fed breast milk from any source versus a premature formula,” said Randy Henderson, MD, neonatologist.

Forrest General Hospital has a milk depot that provides mothers and babies with access to human breast milk from a donor. The milk depot also gives lactating mothers who wish to donate a convenient drop-off location in Hattiesburg instead of having to mail a donation.

The hospital sends milk donations to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Mississippi in Flowood, where professionals test, pasteurize and distribute the milk to hospitals statewide. Many times mothers who give birth to premature babies are in a fragile or critical condition themselves and are unable to breastfeed and provide their babies with the nutrients they need the most.

“Mississippi has the highest prematurity rate in the country,”  said Linda Pittman, RN, BSN, executive director of the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Mississippi.

“That means that we have many premature babies who need life-saving human milk. Often, the moms of these babies have difficulty producing their own milk at first. That's where we come in. We screen moms who have extra milk by interview, medical record review from their healthcare providers and blood tests. The donated milk is then pasteurized and tested for safety before being dispensed to the NICUs around our state. Donor moms are vital to our mission. Without the donors, there is no milk.”

Babies weighing less than 1,500 grams (3 pounds) require as little as 1-2 ml per feeding. Even in small amounts, donated milk makes a tremendous difference to premature infants and the cost to bring them a healthy start in life. The Mothers’ Milk Bank of Mississippi accepts donations as small as 100 ounces.

Donors come from a variety of backgrounds and have stories as unique as the NICU babies themselves. One donor, Julianne King, heard about the milk bank from other moms at Forrest General’s Fitness for Two class led by Madalene Daniell. When Julianne realized she would have a substantial surplus, she gave her milk to other women who needed supplemental milk for their babies. King was able to share milk with 14 babies during the course of her two pregnancies, and with knowledge of no other local needs to fill, she contacted her pediatrician, Anita Henderson, MD, to gather more information about the milk depot at Forrest General. Julianne donated 13 gallons of milk to help babies in Mississippi and locally in Hattiesburg.

“Forrest General provided us with such great experiences with each birth that it is a joy to be able to say thank you in a small way,” saidi King. “It is truly one of the greatest and most unexpected blessings of my life to be able to donate milk to babies in need. I trust that the milk is in worthy hands, and I hope it makes it back to our NICU to give a boost to some of our local babies.”

Not every woman donates under happy circumstances as was the case for Jessica Camp. Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, physicians told Camp that her baby, Mills, had a significant genetic disorder and would likely not survive long after birth.

Jessica and her husband, Jake, still had hope as they continued visiting specialists and having tests done, but Jessica delivered the baby at 25 weeks. The couple made the heartbreaking decision for palliative care allowing Mills to live out his natural life as comfortably as possible. When her milk came in, Jessica decided to pump her milk and freeze it with the intention of donating it to help other women and babies in difficult situations.

“I’ve been to the NICU at Forrest General and have seen many sick babies; it was a big deal to me to think that my milk could help those babies survive,” Camp said. “If our baby couldn’t live, I knew someone else’s could because of me taking a few hours out of my day to pump milk for them.”

Camp says she found motivation and healing in the idea of helping someone else’s baby but readily acknowledges the difficult emotional process that lies ahead for a woman making this decision.

She said, “It’s time consuming, and it’s hard. If you can stay focused on the goal of providing nourishment for sick babies, it’s great. Stay positive and focused. Anything you can give would be amazing.”