Anna Jaques Hospital sees benefits of donor breast milk

Daily News of Newburyport

The next best thing

Benefits of breast milk from donors seen at hospital

By Liz Carey - May 25, 2015

Last month, Newburyport resident Amy Cameron gave birth to her first child. But soon, happiness turned to worry as baby Oliver started getting jaundiced and losing a little too much of his birth weight.

The best thing for him was to flush it out by drinking his mother’s milk. Colostrum, or “first milk,” contains antibodies to protect the newborn against disease. The only problem? Her milk hadn’t come in yet. 

What baby Oliver was experiencing wasn’t rare but could be serious if not taken care of. If his jaundice didn’t go away, he would be put under special lighting for treatment, Cameron said.

Nurses at Anna Jaques Hospital gave Cameron a couple of options, including pumping and self-expression to get milk in faster, or she could supplement with formula or donor breast milk.

“Breast milk has so many good antibodies, good flora, probiotics and things in the milk,” Cameron said.

Cameron, who had a C-section and stayed in the hospital for four days after delivery, made the decision to supplement with donor breast milk, as well as pumping her own.

“I just felt a big relief to take off the pressure and feel like he was getting what he needed at that time to flush out the jaundice,” she said. “It took the pressure off me — and my body — to ‘hurry up and do something.’”

So for the next 24 hours, Cameron fed Oliver by putting her finger in his mouth to suck on and squeezing the donor milk in with a syringe, so he wouldn’t get nipple confusion, she said. When her milk came in, she was able to breast-feed him herself.

On the morning of Cameron’s discharge, Oliver’s levels had returned to normal, and he was able to go home with his mom and dad.

Anna Jaques was the first hospital in the state, outside of a neonatal intensive care unit setting, to use human donor breast milk, said Alison Sekelsky, director of the Birth Center.

Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, a nonprofit community milk bank, provides new mothers with donated breast milk to supplement while they are waiting for milk to come in. The organization does all the screening, lab testing, pasteurizing and distributing of all donor breast milk, Sekelsky said.

In a year’s time, approximately 30 new mothers at Anna Jaques Hospital used donor breast milk, Sekelsky said. Some just need it for a feeding or two until their own milk comes in, but some may need it for longer-term care, she said.

“Moms who have chosen to use it have been so grateful,” Sekelsky said. “Oftentimes, mothers have a vision of what the birth will be like — maybe they end up with a C-section they’re not anticipating, then when someone tells you your baby needs formula, it’s a lot.”

Pasteurized human donor breast milk is typically used in the NICU setting, Sekelsky said, such as for premature babies. Anna Jaques uses donor breast milk for babies who may have issues with low blood sugar or jaundice, or who have lost an excessive amount of weight, Sekelsky said.

“We thought, wouldn’t it be nice for babies who aren’t really sick, but do need for medical reasons to have supplementation, to use donor breast milk,” Sekelsky said. “We think those babies deserve to have breast milk, too.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization both say that a mother’s own breast milk is best, Sekelsky said. But if that’s not available, donor human breast milk is the next best thing.

The benefits of breast-feeding are well-established, and breast-feeding is strongly recommended by health care professionals and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Babies exclusively fed breast milk for six months are less prone to childhood illnesses like gastrointestinal bugs and ear infections, Sekelsky said. They also have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome, fewer allergies, less asthma and a lower risk of diabetes, she said.

“It helps brains develop the best they can,” Sekelsky said.

Nearly 85 percent of babies leaving Anna Jaques are breast-fed, Sekelsky said, compared to just 20 percent in the 1950s and ’60s.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is the only other hospital in the state providing donor breast milk outside the NICU setting, Sekelsky said, but other hospitals are starting to get on board.

Sekelsky said it’s important for Anna Jaques to help educate other hospitals using donor human breast milk and to continually support its mothers through programs.

The hospital has three weekly support groups for mothers, meeting on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Run by a lactation consultant, the groups are open to all moms, breast-feeding or not, and cover common motherhood and parenting topics, Sekelsky said. All groups are drop-in friendly and free.

Cameron attends one of the groups and said she is thankful for all of the hospital’s assistance, including a follow-up visit with a lactation consultant after her discharge.

“The whole thing was more complicated than I imagined but went smoothly because of the support,” she said. “I’m impressed with all the lactation support and support in general in the hospital.”

Cameron is also happy to report that baby Oliver is gaining weight.

“Now it’s funny that I was worried about his weight, because he’s been feeding so well and packing on the ounces!” Cameron said.