Human milk is like liquid gold — a typical ounce costs about $4 and for premature babies, the stuff can be lifesaving.
Until recently, Oklahoma mothers who wanted to donate milk had to do so through the nearest milk bank — the Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas in Fort Worth. But a new Oklahoma Mother's Milk Bank is in the process of acquiring the supplies and accreditation needed to be one of only 14 operational nonprofit milk banks with the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
Founders of the new Oklahoma Mother's Milk Bank hope the bank will be fully operational by the end of May, just in time for the state's largest annual breast feeding conference, said Becky Mannel, a lactation coordinator for OU Medical Center and vice president of the board of directors of the Oklahoma Mother's Milk Bank.
“The word is spreading that there's a huge need,” Mannel said. “We expect to have a lot more mothers donating.”
Heather Kinney donated her excess milk to the Texas milk bank for nine months, for a total of 2,211 ounces. Even though she was actively nursing her twin baby girls, Kinney, of Yukon, said she had plenty of milk to spare. When twins Hannah and Lydia were about 9-months-old, Kinney decided to donate the milk to a human milk bank.
“I think it's really neat that most of the milk goes to premature babies that really need it,” Kinney said. Her girls were four weeks premature, but were given formula to supplement their own mother's milk while in the neonatal intensive care unit. After learning about all the benefits of mother's milk for premature infants, Kinney said she wishes the hospital had instead given her girls donated mother's milk while in the hospital.
Kinney stored her extra milk in her freezer and delivered it to Children's Hospital — the state's only milk “depot” where women can drop of milk donations.
The donated milk is transferred from Children's Hospital to the milk bank in Texas for pasteurizing, then returned to Oklahoma where it's given to babies like 3-week-old Cason Bailey, who was born 15 weeks early. Bailey's family is from the Dallas area but is staying near Children's Hospital while little Cason grows and gains strength.
“We were told that babies digest mother's milk better,” said Veronica Bailey, Cason's mother. Cason was given his own mother's milk and the Baileys decided to use donated mother's milk rather than formula to supplement Cason's diet.
“As soon as we started giving the donated milk, that's when he started a lot of weight gain.”
Mother's milk can be lifesaving to premature babies, Mannel said. For example, a common and deadly disease among preemies, necrotizing enterocolitis, can be prevented by feeding the infant human mother's milk from birth, Mannel said.
The new Oklahoma Mother's Milk Bank will help ensure that as many Oklahoma babies that need donated human milk receive it, Mannel said. It will also help lactating mothers donate their extra milk by making the registration and drop off process more accessible.
The Oklahoma Mother's Milk Bank has moved into office space connected to the Oklahoma Blood Institute at NE 9 and Lincoln on the OU Health Science Center campus.
Keri Hale R.D., IDCLC, has been hired as the milk bank's clinical director.
Pasteurizing and milk analyzing equipment are ordered and soon, the bank will begin testing its processes on milk that would otherwise be discarded.
The bank still needs to buy freezers to store milk and other supplies, but Mannel said progress is moving quickly and women across the state are contacting the bank asking when it will be open for donations.
The partnership with OBI will enable the Milk Bank to utilize many of OBI's donation sites, the organization's courier systems and blood screening procedures, Mannel said.
But she stressed that women who want to donate their milk need not wait until the Oklahoma Mother's Milk Bank is fully operational. The Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas in Fort Worth makes registering and blood screening simple for out-of-state mothers and as soon as the Oklahoma bank is open, all Oklahoma donating mothers will be transferred from the North Texas database to the Oklahoma one.
“Please don't wait,” Mannel said. “The milk is needed now.”
For information about the Oklahoma Mother's Milk Bank, email Kerifirstname.lastname@example.org.