Breast milk for all Alabama NICU babies: is it possible?

Mothers who have lived the first few weeks of their newborns' lives visiting them in the NICU can tell you how stressful a time it is -- how their hopes of bringing home a healthy baby after a 48 -hour hospital stay were crushed when they found out their baby was too sick or too little to bring home.

According to the March of Dimes, Alabama has the second highest pre-term birth rate in the U.S., second only to Mississippi. In Alabama, an average of 15.5 babies per 100 are born before 37 weeks. Thankfully, modern medicine has found ways to increase the survival rates of micro-preemies born as early as 24 and 25 weeks gestation. But do you know what one of the biggest factors in those survival rates is?

Breastmilk for those babies.

When a mother finds herself giving birth weeks before expected, or when she must be induced to protect her baby during a complicated pregnancy, or when her baby must be born by an emergency cesarean, many times her body is unable to bring her milk in fast enough to meet her tiny baby's needs. The stress of the trauma can keep her hormones from effectively bringing her milk forward.

And so her baby is given formula. And with that formula comes an increased risk of developing necrotizing enterocolitis over giving that baby her milk or donor milk.

What other babies need donated breastmilk?

  • Premature infants in NICU's, typically less than 32 weeks gestation

  • Infants with short gut syndrome

  • Infants with allergies or infective diseases

  • Infants with intestinal malformations

  • Infants with formula Intolerance or errors in metabolism

  • Infants with renal failure

  • Infants with immunologic deficiencies

  • Outpatients with feeding intolerance or failure to thrive

What if we could provide every baby that needs it with life-saving, donor breastmilk? We can!

And in East Alabama, that is our goal. We have a big mountain to climb, but we have our hiking boots laced up and we are taking our first deep breaths and big steps.

The good news is Alabama has already cleared base camp. The Mother's Milk Bank of Alabama opened a little over one year ago under the guidance of the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama. And just like here in Auburn/Opelika, that milk bank was formed through the passion and sheer drive of a grieving mother who had lost one sweet daughter and watched her third baby, her son Micah, fighting for his life for 8 months in the NICU.

Mary Michael Kelley, who is the Executive Director of the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, was tired of being told that donor milk was not available for her very sick son. She approached her Board of Directors to gauge interest in spearheading the development and incubation of a Mothers’ Milk Bank in Alabama. The support was overwhelming, and the effort has continued to garner massive community support by multiple hospitals, nonprofit organizations, community partners, and mothers.

The Mother's Milk Bank of Alabama received startup funding support through the Junior League of Birmingham and the Jefferson County Public Health Fund and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. It began accepting human milk donations from screened donor mothers in 2014, serving as a milk depot until it had the means to pasteurize and fortify the milk on-site. In the meantime, it sent these donations to a milk bank in North Texas where it was processed and sent to hospitals all over the Southeast.

In that first year, Birmingham mothers and mothers from other parts of the state donated over 25,000 oz of breastmilk to the milk bank.

Now, this month, the Mother's Milk Bank of Alabama is a fully-fledged, non-profit human milk bank. It is processing and distributing breastmilk to hospitals in this state. In just one year, it raised all the funding it needed to hire full-time, trained staff, and all of the lab equipment necessary to begin making donor breastmilk available in Birmingham NICUs.

So, as I said. Alabama has base camp covered. Now we need to climb.

The city of Madison, near Huntsville, opened a contributing milk depot in May. The purpose of a milk depot is to save costs on shipping for the milk bank in Birmingham, which would pay for every donor to ship her milk. If in-person deliveries of large volumes of donated breastmilk can be made, such as that from a regional milk depot or collection spot, the entire operation is able to keep the cost of this breastmilk lower for the babies who need it.

The second milk depot in Alabama is now open in Auburn. Cornerstone Family Chiropractic's owner, Dr. Rusty Herring, agreed to purchase a freezer and provide staff power to accept breastmilk donations from screened mothers in East Alabama. He named the depot the East Alabama Mother's Milk Depot. The East Alabama Birth Village helped orchestrate the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the milk depot, but its formation was the result of a local mother, Kara Newby, who sought to build a legacy in the name of her beautiful daughter, Lyddia, Lyddia Newby was born silent at 39 weeks gestation on October 30, 2014.

Kara and her husband Adam do not know for certain what caused Lyddia's death.

They were told it was likely an umbilical cord accident, a random and cruel accident, that crushed their hopes and dreams for their first daughter. In the midst of her grief, Kara chose to express her breastmilk for three months after her loss, and she donated over 1,000 oz of Lyddia's milk to the Mother's Milk Bank of Alabama, which, at that time, was still a collection depot. Lyddia's milk was then shipped to the Mother's Milk Bank of North Texas, and Kara felt the need to have something close to home that would benefit Alabama babies.

Kara wanted a place where she could place that precious and valuable milk that was supposed to be for her daughter, Lyddia, into someone's grateful hands.

Kara generously allowed us to record her story, and we hope it goes viral. We hope you'll share it with anyone who has excess breastmilk they might consider donating.

Alabama has the second-highest preterm birth rate and second-highest infant mortality rate in the nation. Let's strive to be the state with the highest number of ounces of breastmilk donated to Alabama babies.

Let's donate enough breastmilk to feed every NICU baby in Alabama who needs it..

Even if you can't donate breastmilk, you can make a monetary donation to the Mother's Milk Bank of Alabama. It needs bottles, bags, and other equipment to process donations. If you would like to become a breastmilk donor, you may do so at no cost to yourself. Start the process by downloading a donor packet today.

Stay tuned to this space. We will publish photos by Sherina Hill Photography from the East Alabama Mother's Milk Depot Ribbon Cutting tomorrow, including several of our first milk donor!

#breastpump #breastfeeding #support #milkbank #humanmilkdonation #NICU #necrotizingenterocolitis #pretermbirth #stillbirth #postpartum

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PO Box 2981

Auburn, AL 36831-2981

Tel: (334) 521-3576

Special thanks to Sherina Hill Photography , Unsplash, A. Lovell, and Cory Unruh  for the images on this site.

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