Breast milk donors give boost to Chicago’s at-risk infants

Mothers who donate breast milk to Dr. Paul Schattauer’s milk depot in Oak Park must pass a screening that includes a blood test. (Michelle Manchir, Chicago Tribune)

An Oak Park doctor has started accepting donations of breast milk, largely for use by intensive care units in hospitals that treat premature babies whose mothers can’t provide the milk on their own.

Milk is donated by mothers who pass a screening that includes a blood test. The donated milk is then sent to a milk bank in Indiana, where it is processed and pasteurized for use, said Paul Schattauer, a family practice doctor with an office in downtown Oak Park.

The freezer in his office where the donated milk will be kept initially was brought in by the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, a nonprofit group trying to raise money and build a milk bank in Illinois, Schattauer said.

Jen Anderson, a lactation consultant and chairman of the board of directors for the group, said Schattauer’s practice is a rare community milk depot. Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, where the premature infants in the intensive care unit are fed only breast milk, was among the first to accept donated milk, she said.

A capital fundraising campaign for the new bank will kick off this summer, she said.

Schattauer, who said he’s been a family physician for about 26 years and delivering babies for 23, said there is an “explosion” of research on the benefits of using breast milk to feed infants, as opposed to using formula.

He said using his practice as a depot for breast milk collection helps support the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes’ cause.

“The perfect formula is human milk,” he said. “That has everything that’s needed for a premature baby.”

While he said an infant’s own mother’s milk is generally the best for him or her, in some cases, where a mother is not healthy or cannot breast feed for other reasons, donated milk is the next best choice.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, among the benefits of breastfeeding are the nutrients and antibodies that come naturally in breast milk, the ease of breast milk on an infant’s digestive system and the hormones in breast milk that protect babies from illness. Medical care costs are also lower for fully breastfed infants, according to the department.

Schattauer, who has already collected dozens of little baggies full of frozen donated milk, said volunteers could compare the donation to that of giving blood.

“You do it because you feel like it’s a good thing to do,” he said.

Schattauer’s practice, The Green Medical Practice, is located at 715 Lake St., Suite 302, in Oak Park.

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