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Memorial Health System establishes breast milk bank in Marietta

MARIETTA — A program that provides breast milk for infants who need it now has a connection with the Memorial Health System in Marietta.

Memorial established itself as part of the OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank network late last year, and several nursing mothers have begun contributing to it.

“We can now accept donations of breast milk for the milk bank, and within about a month or so we should have pasteurized milk available here for our own infants,” said Susan Knotts of the Marietta Memorial Hospital newborn unit. “This will greatly impact the health of moms and babies here. It’s really exciting. We have worked on this for a long time.”

The interest in the project proved to be intense, she said.

“Our marketing department started a social media campaign, and it got 86,000 views on our Facebook page,” she said.

From the start, it took more than six months to set up, she said. The first donor offered a whole cooler of milk she’d expressed. “She had a friend who was giving it away, and she thought there had to be a safer way to do it,” Knotts said.

It’s more complicated than just taking milk into the hospital collection point.

The prospective milk donors have to fill out paperwork with their medical histories, get waivers from their obstetricians and the children’s pediatricians, and get a blood test to ensure they are healthy. Donors cannot smoke tobacco or drink alcohol.

“It’s a lot like donating blood, they screen you,” Knotts said.

Molly Balsley is a 28-year-old nursing mother from Parkersburg.

“I heard about it from the instructor in my birthing class when I was pregnant,” she said. “I didn’t know it was an option until then.

“Being a woman and breastfeeding isn’t easy, but it is the best way to feed your baby, and I prayed that I would have enough, and also enough to feed other babies.”

Her prayers were answered.

“I ended up with a lot of extra milk and I was able to donate,” she said.

The process, she said, was mainly organizing the paperwork for approval.

“The only obstacle was that I have really small veins, so there was some trouble drawing blood for the test, but if you’ve been pregnant, you know you’ve been through plenty of blood tests,” she said.

She’s continuing to pump milk in addition to feeding her baby, “a big, chunky boy,” to keep her milk production up, she said. She freezes some of it for her child but is sending the rest to the Ohio Milk Bank in Columbus.

“They send you those cooler boxes, and you just send them out,” she said. “I would really encourage mothers to donate milk. It really helps a lot of people.”

The primary call for donated milk is for premature infants. Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus uses milk from the Ohio Milk Bank, media relations official Katelyn Hanzel said, and it is a valuable resource for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The milk received at the bank is sorted and analyzed by protein, calorie and fat content, Knotts said. The highest protein and fat milk goes to Nationwide, although other members of the network can request it. The milk is blended from several donors, pasteurized and frozen.

It is dispensed on physicians’ orders, according to informational literature from Marietta Memorial Hospital.

Jenna Sizemore is a 27-year-old new mother in Mineral Wells, who heard about the milk bank from Balsley, a friend of hers.

“I saw that Molly had donated, and I had some extra and didn’t want it to go to waste,” she said. “I got on the Memorial Health System Facebook page and called the number.”

Like Balsley, she had to have consent forms filled out by her obstetrician and her daughter’s pediatrician and had to get her own blood tested.

“I just got the blood test kit and I’m going this week, then it gets sent out,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to be able to breast-feed. It’s been a tough journey for me, and I can’t imagine what it’s like for women who are sick, whose babies are sick or premature.”

She’s blessed, she said, to have more milk than she needs.

“You always want to give your child the best, and for me this is a way to give back,” she said.

The practice of wet nursing – recruiting mothers who have an excess of breast milk to nurse infants whose mothers either can’t nurse their children or find it inconvenient to do so – goes well back in human history, but it began to become a cultural relic in the early 20th century with the rise of industrially produced infant formula. Breast-feeding as the preferred method of nourishing newborns up to age 2 and sometimes beyond began to get wider public and scientific support in the 1960s and 1970s, and milk banks got their start from that.

The HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s put the brakes on the milk bank movement for a decade or more, until reliable tests for the HIV virus became commonly available.

The Ohio Milk Bank and others like it elsewhere take measures to ensure the safety of the milk supply, which is why the donation process is strictly regulated.

There is no cost to donors, Knotts said, and the expense for the Marietta hospital is minimal, requiring only the maintenance of a cooler to store the milk.

Online resources allow the sale and purchase of breast milk, with prices ranging from $1 to $2.50 an ounce, but the safety of the milk is not regulated in the same way as the milk bank.

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A Glance at the Milk Bank

* Accepts donations of breast milk

* Processes donations for safety

* Provides milk for children who cannot get it from mothers

* For information: OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank, 614-566-0630

* Memorial Health System, lactation office: 740-374-1627

Source: Memorial Health System

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