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As a neonatal nurse practitioner, Kathryn Brecht, of Denver, spends her days caring for fragile newborns, many of whom rely on donor human milk.
“I see the benefits of donor human milk on a daily basis when I go to work,” Brecht said. “There are a lot of babies that depend on it to get big and thrive and go home.”
That’s why when Brecht started producing too much milk following the birth to her second son, she decided to become a milk donor through Mothers’ Milk Bank.
“I’m very fortunate that I produce more milk than my baby needs,” Brecht said. “I wanted my milk to be put to good use and there’s no better way than to give it to premature or sick babies that need it.”
Last month, Brecht became the 12,000th donor at Mothers’ Milk Bank, a program of Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation that has provided donor human milk to babies throughout the country, mostly in Colorado, with a wide network of hospital and community partners for 33 years.
MMB is the largest nonprofit milk bank in North America and earlier this year, observed another significant milestone, having dispensed its five millionth ounce of milk. The majority of MMB’s donations help pre-term babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) who are so tiny they might only need one ounce per day.
“Human milk is often referred to as liquid gold because it provides hundreds of important components for newborns that are not found in formula,” said Laraine Lockhart-Borman, director of outreach for MMB. “We feel honored to provide milk to babies who need it most as it helps them through one of the most fragile periods of their lives. When deciding between providing a baby with milk from a mother or manufactured formula, there really is no comparison. Human milk is always the best choice.”
Premature birth is the leading cause of infant death in Colorado. Colorado averages 400 infant deaths per year with 38 percent of these resulting from premature birth. Babies who survive an early birth may face serious and lifelong health problems; however, the immediate availability of human milk can help prevent some of these ailments. Many mothers who deliver preterm may not yet be able to produce milk, and that’s when the Mothers’ Milk Bank steps in.
“More than 90 percent of MMB’s donations directly serve premature babies in hospital settings and it’s our mission to make sure every baby who needs milk to survive receives it,” said Lockhart-Borman. “We accomplish this with the help of hundreds of new donors across the country every year. We need more milk donors to meet the demand and this month is the perfect time to sign up to give the gift of life.”
During the holiday season, the milk bank is in need because cold and flu season, which prevents sick donors from donating, which makes donations decrease. To help with this MMB is holding a donor drive in December with the goal of 250 new donors to sign up to give their excess human milk to babies in need.
MMB supports donation and outreach centers across Colorado in the Denver metro area, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Greeley, Grand Junction, Lone Tree, Lafayette, Louisville, Loveland, Parker, Pueblo, Salida and Steamboat Springs.
Mothers who are interested in donating their milk are encouraged to contact MMB for a verbal screening. Every healthy lactating mother with an infant under the age of 18 months is a potential milk donor.
Brecht encourages other mothers to share their gift of life.
“If you’re like me, you might be leery of committing to anything that might take up your time in an already busy life with small children,” Brecht said. “But if you’re already pumping and collecting milk for your own baby, the most time-consuming part of the donation process is already done.”
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