Human Milk Saves Babies, Reduces Complications

by Neven Simpson, Staff writer

Mothers' Milk Bank at AustinStudies show that the health benefits of human breast milk have the potential to save the lives of babies born preterm. Human milk provides optimal nutrition, boosts immunity and reduces the incidence of medical complications so newborns can come home from the hospital more quickly. Unfortunately, many mothers of preterm babies are unable to produce milk. To meet this growing need, the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin, which opened in 1999, has increased access to breast milk for preterm and sick babies.

“When a mother’s own milk is not available, pasteurized donor human milk is a life saving therapy for premature infants in our neonatal intensive care unit,” says Sonny Rivera, Jr., MD, Neonatologist with Pediatrix Medical Group/St. David’s Medical Center and co-founder of the Mothers Milk Bank of Austin.

“Research…provides strong evidence that human milk feeding decreases the incidence and/or severity of a wide range of infectious diseases – including bacterial meningitis, bacteremia, diarrhea, respiratory tract infection, necrotizing entercolitis, otitis media, urinary tract infection, and late-onset sepsis…”
Source: Gartner, L.M., et al. “Breastfeeding and the use of human milk.” Pediatrics. 2005 February, 15(2):496–506.

The Mother’s Milk Bank of Austin is one of only 12 milk banks in the U.S. and serves 44 NICU’s in six states. They also dispense milk to outpatients with a physician’s prescription. Their mission is to accept, pasteurize and dispense donor human milk by physician prescription to premature and ill infants. They have set up a safe distribution system that ensures that these babies get the nutrients they need during the first few crucial weeks of life in order to help prevent future medical complications.

Kristen feeding her preemie

Photo credit: Knight Family

Because human milk can make such a difference for NICU infants, the Mother’s Milk Bank actively recruits volunteer milk donors to keep up with the growing demand. Women with excess milk can become donors after going through a screening process that is similar to that of giving blood, which includes an examination of their medical history and lifestyle. Milk donations of any quantity are welcomed as long as an attempt is made to give the desired minimum of 150 ounces. Last year one dedicated mother was able to give about 15,000 ounces which substantially contributed to the 1,500 fragile babies the Mother’s Milk Bank was able to assist.

“The United States incurs $13 billion in excess costs annually and suffers 911 preventable deaths per year because infants are not breastfed for the first six months of life. The majority of these costs are attributable to three causes: sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), and lower respiratory infections.”
Source: Bartick, M., et al. “The burden of suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: a pediatric cost analysis.” Pediatrics. 2010 May;125(5):e1048-56.

Milk banks like the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin are vital to preterm and ill infants struggling to develop into healthy, strong individuals. Milk banks are able to give mothers peace of mind in knowing their babies are receiving nutrients they cannot yet provide them, while donating mothers have the satisfaction of knowing that they are caring for the next generation and are ensuring the health of those babies most medically in need. For more information on the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin, visit their website at