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Donating Breast Milk to Help Babies

Featured Speaker

Chris Hanke, RN

Chris Hanke, RN

About this Podcast

About This Podcast

If you have extra milk, it can be processed into specialty formulations for the nutritional needs of premature and critically ill infants in neonatal intensive care units.

Many moms donate their extra milk to help babies in need because they have had a preterm baby in the past or know someone who has had that experience.

Chris Hanke is here to explain the benefits of donating your extra breast milk.



Melanie Cole (Host):   There's perhaps no more exciting and anxious time than the birth of a new baby. Feeding and care are every new parent's biggest concerns. My guest today is Chris Hanke. She's a woman's health nurse navigator and the coordinator of the breast milk donation program at Aspirus. Welcome to the show, Chris. So, tell us a little bit about with newborns, and women are encouraged to breastfeed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and sometimes, they have trouble. Tell us what kinds of troubles they have sometimes.

Chris Hanke (Guest):  Sure. Sometimes, women can have problems with the baby latching on, and that can be even problematic for patients but the nice thing about it there are some options for maybe women who encounter this problem or perhaps have a premature baby and are really dealing with this issue. So, there are milk donation centers throughout the United States and we happen to be what's called a "milk depot" for a milk bank.

Melanie:  So, explain what that is and how do women take advantage of this service?

Chris:  Absolutely. So, oftentimes, women who are breast feeding may be blessed with an overabundance of milk and they may be pumping their milk, freezing it and, for a variety of reasons, may not use all that milk. Maybe the baby doesn't like the taste of frozen milk and prefers milk straight from the breast or, again, if they just have an overproduction and won't use all their breast milk. You know, we certainly don't want to see this liquid gold go down the drain as women maybe have resorted to when they have too much milk and not enough freezer space, so programs such as ours were a way to capture that liquid gold and have it available for other babies who certainly could use that help.

Melanie:  So, how does this work? Is this milk clean? I mean, how do women know what they're getting is safe for their baby?

Chris:  Absolutely. Great question. So, yes, we actually are a milk depot for the milk bank which is located in Indiana and their sister bank which is located just outside of Chicago. This milk that is donated, first of all, potential donors are screened for eligibility. So, there are health history questions:  are the donors using any type of medication that wouldn't be good for babies to be exposed to via breast milk? Lifestyle questions:  are they smokers? So, those types of questions are assessed first and if a potential donor, let's say, passes those initial screening questions, then they can move on to have lab testing. Basically, we want donors to be screened for infections such as Hepatitis and HIV, which could be passed through mother's breast milk. When those test results are in and everything looks fine, they can go ahead and begin that donation process. They're actually given a unique donor number and, at that time, they can start donating. So, we're considered a depot. What that means is, approved donors can drop off their milk at our site. We have a freezer that's dedicated just to mothers’ breast milk for these donors, and then, we ship them to the breast banks. Once the milk reaches the breast milk banks, it's tested, it's pasteurized, and it's re-packaged to be sold to make use to help premature and sick babies throughout the country for that purpose. So, it's a very rigorous process that this breast milk is put through so we know that those standards are good and that babies receiving that breast milk are receiving a good, safe product.

Melanie:  So, once the new mothers get this product, obviously then, they have to use bottle feeding. So, then is there a way for them to also restart breastfeeding or, once they start with donated breast milk and the bottle, they have to stick with that?

Chris:  Well, oftentimes when babies are, let's say, born premature or in neo-natal intensive care units and breast milk isn't being supplied, let's say, by the mother for whatever reason. Maybe her milk didn't come in, maybe she's just really having a hard time with that. So, at that point in time, babies are bottle-fed, in those instances. So, yes, in those instances, babies would be bottle-fed at that point in time.

Melanie:  Then, once that starts, how long can a mother use donated breast milk?

Chris:  There doesn't really seem to be, I don't think, an end date on that. Certainly, we want those babies to continue to be breast fed while they're in our NICUs and then, if they choose to continue feeding that breast milk once the baby has been discharged from the NICU, that's certainly something that the mother could continue doing at that point in time, too.  We want to make sure that while they're in the NICU, either recovering from prematurity or an illness, that they do have that breast milk at that time.

Melanie:  Chris, something that's in the media a lot right now is the Zika virus and you mentioned that this all tested for Hepatitis and HIV. Are women asking you now about Zika?

Chris:  I haven't encountered any questions that way. My guess is during the initial donor screening interview, through our breast milk banks, that would be questions that they would likely be assessing for.

Melanie:  How do you ask women to be donors?

Chris:  We really aren't asking women to be donors. It's just really great how they find us. Certainly, we do have information available that we are a milk depot. We have information for mothers in our hospitals who are giving birth that if they do have an overabundance, they're welcome to contact our facility because we're always looking for donor milk to help those sick and premature babies. So, a lot of it is word of mouth and I cannot believe how much milk has been donated through our center since we started this program. To date, we've collected over 4,600 pounds of milk.

Melanie:   Wow.

Chris:   To kind of give an idea, from the consumer perspective, that's a little over 580 gallons of milk. It's just been phenomenal.

Melanie:  Wow, that's fantastic!

Chris:  It's been phenomenal. So, I'm always in awe of the amount of milk that some of these mothers produce and they're already feeding their own babies plus they have this excess of milk, so it's just incredible. It's really incredible to see the donation amounts that we've seen and we feel truly honored to receive this liquid gold.

Melanie:  Do the women who are receiving this donation, do they pay for this milk? Does insurance cover that? How does that work?

Chris:  Sure.  Great question. Our NICU actually purchases the milk on behalf of the patient while the baby is in the NICU. Milk can be purchased on an outpatient basis.  So, let's say a mother gives birth to a healthy baby, goes home and is trying to breastfeed. For whatever reason, maybe isn't able to produce, or is having a hard time with the whole breastfeeding experience, they can purchase breast milk on an outpatient basis. Typically, it's by prescription, so they would need an okay from their doctor but it can be purchased for that reason, too.

Melanie:  What great information. In the just the last few minutes, Chris, if you would, give us your sort of best information; what you're telling women every day about the breast milk donation program at Aspirus and why women should come to see you.

Chris:  Certainly. It is such a great program to be able to offer that to other moms. You know, certainly when other moms are having issues with a sick baby, what better gift can a mother who has excess provide to that? Certainly that impact that they can have on not only their baby's health but, potentially, other mothers' babies, too.  So in the absence of their own mother's milk, this pasteurized, fully screened milk is such a gift that they can provide. Certainly, when you're looking at a baby that is maybe in a NICU setting or is born premature, the benefits that they can have that maybe can't be offered in formula. Just the immunological properties of breast milk that are there that can't be replicated in formula is so important. One thing that we hope never happens to babies is a condition called “necrotizing enterocolitis.” It can be a very life-threatening condition and that's a situation where we really want those babies to receive breast milk because of those anti-inflammatory properties. Those babies’ intestines, in that condition, can be so critical and it becomes hard for them to digest. The intestine can become inflamed and that intestine can actually die. So, we really want breast milk, certainly, in that devastating condition to be offered to those babies.

Melanie:  Thank you so much, Chris. I applaud all the great work that you're doing. You're listening to Aspirus Health Talk. For more information you can go to Aspirus.org. That's Aspirus.org. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.