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Moms choosing donor milk at Woodwinds

Becky Peer and daughter, Lucy, used donor milk as soon as Lucy was born in November to avoid artificial formula. Staff photo by Riham Feshir

Becky Peer always planned to breast feed her baby girl Lucy when she was born in November.

And when she recalled the severe allergic reaction her other daughter had after giving her formula, it made the decision to stay away from artificial milk that much easier.

So when Lucy came in at 7 pounds 5 ounces at Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury last month, all she needed was human milk to help cure her jaundice, a yellow discoloration that happens when the baby's blood contains an excess of yellow-colored pigment of red blood cells.

It's a common condition and treatment of it relies on the mother's breast milk.

Because Peer hadn't yet produced milk on the first day, she opted for a fairly new option at Woodwinds.

"After that allergic reaction, it just really scared me and I never wanted to supplement with formula this early on," she said.

Over the last four months, Woodwinds has been offering donor human milk to all newborns whose families choose to use it.

The program began about three years ago but was only available to at-risk infants who needed donor milk to grow, said Jeanette Schwartz, clinical director of maternity care center at Woodwinds.

After a donation was made to the HealthEast Foundation specifically for the donor milk program, it was made available to all families.

Then the use of it spiked.

"They really do want this, they want to try to avoid using artificial milk," Schwartz said. "There are some risks to artificial formula and they just want to have this option available to them."

How it works

Donor milk is stored with the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Women have to meet certain criteria before donating and they have to pass a screening and testing process similar to that of donating blood.

When the milk is secured, it's pasteurized to kill viruses and bacteria so it's considered safe by the World Health Organization and the Academy of Pediatrics, Schwartz said.

Schwartz, who serves on the International Childbirth Education Association board, said studies have shown stem cells found in human milk are beneficial in helping premature babies grow.

Though it is unknown whether using artificial milk is a cause of death for some premature infants, Schwartz said it still lacks nutritional benefits found in breast milk.

"We don't know if we're causing harm or not, we don't know because it's so new," she said.

But stem cell research that began in 2007 found evidence of stem cells in breast milk that cannot be replaced with baby formula, she added.

Schwartz said there are many reasons breast feeding is more beneficial and that at Woodwinds, doctors and nurses are still learning from the outcomes, especially with premature infants.

Human milk has stem cells that help with the lining of the stomach and keeping it in an alkaline environment as opposed to an acidic one, which is often caused by formula, she added.

"Later on in life, when the baby is older, introducing artificial milk might be OK," she said, but "it's very crucial for preemies."

It is also beneficial to use donor milk for those infants who need just a little bit of supplementation before the mother starts producing her own milk.

"Usually their milk supply does not come in until the third or fourth day," Schwartz said. "In between the two days, there needs to be an intervention."

Recent death

Recent news reports of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assisting in the investigation of a newborn baby who died in Missouri this month from bacteria found in powder-based infant formula, was even more concerning to Peer.

"That makes me even more hesitant to even supplement them in the future," Peer said. "It is nice to have that formula as an option but it's just so scary."

Walmart Stores decided to pull all cans of Enfamil Newborn powdered formula that were linked to the case.

Changing trend

In the beginning of the 20th century, almost all children were breast-fed either by the mother or with donated milk, according to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Over the next 100 years, changes including replacement of human milk by artificial products took place and by the beginning of the 21st century, human milk feeding was once again recommended.

Woodwinds Hospital currently has a freezer filled with donor milk that's pasteurized and good to go for the next year.

Plans to continue the program after that are dependent on funding for the program, Schwartz said.

"Of those moms who we need to supplement something for their baby, about 80 percent are choosing donor milk," she added.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.