By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Donating breast milk at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health just got a lot easier, thanks to a partnership between Riley and The Milk Bank in Indianapolis.
Riley will now be an official donation site for carefully screened and approved donors, one of about 55 milk depots serving Indiana and parts of Illinois and Kentucky. That means IU Health team members can more easily donate breast milk to help NICU moms and fragile infants.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the site initially will be open to IU Health and IU Health Physicians team members, as well as IU School of Medicine staff and current inpatient NICU moms, said Nicole Geist, clinical nurse manager on 9 East at Riley and a board member of The Milk Bank. Eventually, the plan is to open donations to the community.
“This is helping us protect the supply of pasteurized donor human milk that we use so much of for our NICU population Downtown,” Geist said.
Not only is mother’s milk easily digestible, it boosts immunity and improves the long-term health of infants by decreasing the risks for allergies, asthma, childhood leukemia, obesity, ear infections and type 2 diabetes. Moms who breastfeed are less likely to develop certain types of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes, according to the Office on Women’s Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Milk Bank was established to improve health outcomes for infants, particularly preemies whose moms may be unable to breastfeed. Up to 70% of mothers who have infants in the NICU are unable to provide enough milk for their baby, at least initially, despite lactation support.
Geist, who also manages the Milk Lab at Riley, donated breast milk after the births of both of her children.
“One ounce of approved donor milk (prepared in Riley’s Milk Lab or The Milk Bank) can provide up to three feedings for a fragile, premature baby,” she said.
Still, it takes about 500 donors per year to meet the demand at Riley alone. That breaks down to 2,500 ounces per month on average, Geist said.
Currently, donated milk is collected outside the fourth-floor NICU at Riley. The Riley Depot will be relocated to the Riley maternity tower when it opens later this year.
Any mom who is an approved donor through The Milk Bank will eventually be able to drop off donated milk at Riley. The milk is analyzed at The Milk Bank, then blended with other moms’ milk to get a more uniform product, Geist said. Then it is pasteurized, bottled and frozen, and a sample is sent to a third party for testing before it is dispensed to hospitals or patients.
Donor human milk reduces healthcare expenses in many ways, not the least of which is lowering the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and other infections in preterm babies.
“As we provide care for some of the most fragile babies in Indiana and beyond, Riley creates a lot of demand for pasteurized human donor milk,” Geist said. “This is a new opportunity for Riley to help The Milk Bank with their supply of something that is so vital to our community, as well as the mothers and babies we serve.”
Approved donors may offer a one-time donation or more. Register at themilkbank.org.