Throughout history, women sharing their breast milk to nurture and grow babies that were not biologically their own has been common place.
The first record of regulations regarding the sharing of breast milk can be found dating back to 1800 BC.
As the centuries have passed the advances in feeding babies have changed as well. Part of this development has been the creation of milk banking.
The first human milk bank opened in Vienna, Austria, in 1909 and 10 short years later, in North America. In 1919, the first bank opened in the United States, in Boston at the “Boston Floating Hospital for Children.” The milk bank there was created to help infants survive the ‘summer sickness’ that babies succumbed too. This sickness which was diarrheal disease was caused by contaminated water and animal milk and was a huge cause of infant mortality.
In 1985, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) was established to provide evidence-based guidelines and standards for the milk bank industry.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) premature babies can benefit greatly from breast milk, even if the milk is not from the birth mother.
“Donor milk is a valuable resource for premature infants whose mothers are unable to provide adequate supply of milk,” NCBI shares.
In an effort to contribute to the ongoing work to support premature babies with valuable nutritional resources, the Southwest Wisconsin Community Action Program (SWCAP) has opened its own Milk Depot.
The SWCAP Milk Depot is located at the Iowa County Food Pantry at 138 S. Iowa Street in Dodgeville.
The facility that celebrated its opening on Sept. 18 is a collection point for human milk donations from healthy, pre-screened lactating women.
“We want to make sure babies are able to thrive and live and that is very compatible with our mission at SWCAP,” explained SWCAP Executive Director Wally Orzechowki. “We are an anti poverty organization, and although not every baby born into poverty has complications, there is a strong correlation between poverty and low birth weight, so being able to make sure babies can survive and grow is important. Some babies are not thriving, and may die without access to this milk.”
The SWCAP Milk Depot works under the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes which is based out of Elk Grove Village, IL. The opening of the facility in 2015 and official certification in 2016 made it the first not for profit milk bank in the region.
“We try to make donating as easy as possible,” explained Education and Outreach Specialist for Mothers’ Milk Bank Nicole Robbins. “Our main mission is to save lives of these precious babies so we are very grateful to our donors.”
Robbins explained that potential donors can go on the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes website (www.milkbankwgl.org) and click on ‘Donate Milk’ . From there they will be prompted to complete an online donor interest form. Screeners will contact the potential donor mother to complete a 10-15 minute phone screening. If the potential donor seems to be a good candidate for donation, a full donor application will be sent. From there the Milk Bank will review the application and contact medical providers for the mother and baby. A blood screen will also be arranged. If everything checks out and the donating woman passes, she will be able to donate her pumped milk to facilities like the one in Dodgeville. Once received, the milk will be stored in deep freeze at Milk Depot in Dodgeville until it is ready to be shipped to Elk Lake Village for processing at the Mothers’ Milk headquarters.
“After mothers are approved, we test accepted frozen breast milk from moms for bacteria, pasteurize, and send it on to the hospitals,” Robbins said. “80 percent of milk goes to really fragile babies, so we have a very intense screening processes.”
The remaining 20 percent is made available for out patient babies.
In addition to having milk that is drug and disease free, donors have a small list of requirements to adhere to. They include milk donors to have at least 100 ounces of milk to donate on their first drop off, store milk in single use breast milk storage bags or containers labeled with the pump date, donations of milk that has been stored less than nine months in a deep freezer or six months in a standard freezer, donate milk that was pumped before their baby’s second birth day, and contact the milk bank if there are any changes in health status or when taking medications.
The milk bank serves many NICU’s in Illinois and Wisconsin.
“We partner with a good number of them (NICU’s) and we are saving a lot of babies’ lives,” Robbins said. “Different hospitals all have specific guidelines but they work to make what ever supplement is needed is available. They want to be able to be offering feeding choices so parents can make a choice that feels right for them.”
Robbins shared that the milk that is donated is batched gestationally as well.
“We separate it gestationally. The milk that is pumped with in the first month and is high in protein and antibodies is given to the high risk NICU babies. And the other category is milk pumped after and up until the second birthday.”
According to Orzechowski, milk collected from the SWCAP Milk Depot will help support the complex nutritional needs of sick and premature babies in Illinois and Wisconsin. There is currently one other milk depot in the area, housed at the Richland County Hospital.
“We’re very proud to help improve infant health and, in some cases, possibly save lives with this service,” Orzechowski said. “It fits in very well with all of our anti-poverty services, particularly our Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and our food pantries, both of which are focused on healthy food and good nutrition.”
Those interested in the program can visit www.milkbankwgl.org or the Iowa County SWCAP Food Pantry at 608-935-2326