By Corrie Pelc
On Monday, December 10, Sutter Medical Plaza/Sacramento in East Sacramento will be the location for a breastmilk donation drive to educate mothers about breastmilk donating and help get interested mothers registered as donors.
“The main intent of the drive is to get moms to come up and be able to register on the spot,” adds Heather Conway, president of the Breastfeeding Coalition of Greater Sacramento, who is running the donation drive.
The drive benefits the Mothers’ Milk Bank in San Jose, which according to the Bank’s Outreach Specialist Emily Katz, is one of only 13 nonprofit, public-serving milk banks in the country and has been providing milk banking services to infants and children in 73 hospitals across 13 states for the past 38 years.
However, Katz says Mothers’ Milk Bank is currently experiencing a shortage in donated breastmilk due to more people – including the medical system – learning about breastmilk and its benefits for infants, and the donor pool not keeping pace with an increase in demand.
“Over the past year, the number of families seeking milk has greatly accelerated, and the number of generous moms coming into the pipeline of donors has not kept pace,” she says. “A milk drive like this is the perfect way to get the word out to lots of moms who could be potential donors of milk all at the same time.”
Close to Home
According to Katz, in 2011 alone, Mothers’ Milk Bank provided over 350,000 ounces of donor milk to infants and children who mothers could not do so on their own. “For some, this is the only source of nutrition that allows them to grow and develop without allergic symptoms that they may otherwise get with formula,” she adds.
One of those hospitals is Sutter Medical Center in East Sacramento. According to Kate Risingsun, RN, IBCLC, Regional Lactation Services & parent education manager at Sutter Medical Center, the Center spends a few thousands of dollars on purchasing donated milk from the Bank each year for their NICU. “It’s now considered to be an important clinical need for NICU babies to have mother’s milk, and if that is not available from their own mother for all kinds of reasons, we purchase banked milk for them because it’s the most important food and protection that they can have,” she explains.
When Andrea Sandoval of Yuba City was having her baby at Sutter Medical Center in August, she ended up depending on banked breastmilk for her baby for six weeks when her own supply was not enough to support her baby’s needs.
Sandoval says she was thankful there was an option to get her baby the breastmilk he needed. “It makes it so that they’re used to the breastmilk and not get used to formula,” she explains. “The breastmilk is much healthier, so it’s definitely beneficial for the baby.”
Risingsun says Sutter is happy to support Mothers’ Milk Bank as they know many times they struggle to meet the demands for donor milk. And they also encourage mothers at Sutter to donate if they can, even if its only a few ounces as she says 3 ounces of donated milk will feed a premature baby nine times. “So even a few ounces of donated milk goes a really long way to help a NICU baby,” Risingsun adds.
How It Works
So how does donating breastmilk work?
Katz says for mothers interested in donating milk, it’s a three-step process that includes a pre-screening interview, followed by an intake packet that needs to be filled out. The packet includes an extensive medical history and a call to a prospective donor’s doctor. Then if a mother passes both of those, they are then referred to a lab for a blood test.
The Sacramento donation drive helps move this process along, Katz says, as prospective donors can come in for a pre-screening interview and fill out the medical history. Plus interested mothers will have the opportunity to ask questions of staff from the Mothers’ Milk Bank.
Once a mother is cleared to become a milk donor, Katz says they are given pre-paid, pre-labeled shipping coolers to ship frozen milk directly to the Bank. Then the donated milk is tested and pasteurized, “and then get it right back out the door to a family who is urgently waiting for it,” she adds.
However, soon milk donors in Sacramento will have the option to drop off their donation at one of the depots being set up by the Breastfeeding Coalition. Conway says the first such depot is scheduled to open at the Sutter Medical Lactation Station in East Sacramento by December 10, with more planned to option in the area. She says donor mothers can bring either fresh or frozen milk donations to the depot, which is then collected by depot staff and shipped to the Bank.
“Moms can have the opportunity to bring in 2 ounces or 200 ounces – it doesn’t matter because the depots will collect it and when they get enough of it, they’ll send it to the milk bank,” Conway adds.
Spreading the Word
Conway hopes the donation drive will help spread the word about breastmilk donation, and “get moms approved so that even if they don’t have the milk in their freezer now but some day would like to donate, they can already be approved and they can bring their milk in when they have it.”
Katz agrees, and adds it gives mothers in Sacramento an opportunity to help those infants who are most at risk in their community. “Sacramento is such a wonderfully charitable-minded and generous community for many years, … we’re very excited that Sacramento is stepping up to explore this new realm of giving and generosity,” she says.
And as a mother who depended on donated breastmilk for her own baby, Sandoval stresses the importance of letting mothers there is a need and a way they can help. “It really helps people like me who really wanted to breastfeed their baby, but couldn’t – it really helps out,” she says.
The Breastmilk Donation Drive will take place Monday, December 10 from 10am-3pm at the Sutter Medical Plaza/Sacramento, 1625 Stockton Blvd. Donors do not have to bring a milk donation with them to the drive, but they can if they wish to. For information, call 916-261-5683, or visit sacbreastfeeding.org or www.sanjosemilkbank.com.