Babies who required extra nutrition just after birth used to rely on a formula made from cow’s milk. But now, hospitals are turning away from dairy in favor of food produced by their own species.
University of Florida Health Jacksonville is among the first hospitals in Northeast Florida to offer donor milk or a human-milk-based concentrate, known as a fortifier, in both its newborn nursery and neonatal intensive care unit.
Dr. Rana Alissa, medical director for UF Health’s Newborn Nursery, said the initiative is part of the group’s efforts to increase the rate of “exclusive breastfeeding,” meaning the infant's diet consists of solely breast milk.
She said research increasingly supports the idea that human milk is a healthier choice.
“We’re seeing a lot of asthma and eczema — you’re introducing (a) foreign body, as we say about formula — because this is something not natural,” she said.
Besides health or medical concerns, there are several social constraints that might prevent able moms from choosing to breastfeed. Alissa said one major concern is the common belief that they aren’t producing enough milk, which is very rarely the case. For some women, the fact they were never breastfed can also be a reason. For others, the idea of using donor milk is taboo.
Christina Bradley welcomed her son Levi into the world a few days ago. Because of his low blood sugar, his diet was augmented with donor milk besides milk from breastfeeding.
“I was a little skeptical at first about using it because (of) just the simple fact that it’s someone else’s milk. The nurse was explaining to me the different bacteria that could be in it that they’ve killed out,” she said.
Similar to blood donation, the milk donation process is also regulated. As Sandy Inman, a lactation consultant for UF Health, said donors must first go through a screening process.
“They have to get a recommendation from their doctor; they have to be screened themselves — have drug screening — amongst other things,” she said. “Once they are cleared, they can donate their milk to the milk bank.”
The milk will then be pooled, mixing together donations from different mothers, and pasteurized to kill any lingering bacteria that could be harmful.
Bradley said, in the end, she came to terms with the donor milk and the supplement was successful: Baby Levi was able to stay with his mom while his sugar levels came back to normal, and was scheduled to go home with her after three days in the hospital.
Alissa added the new initiative could reduce the time and money a patient might otherwise spend treating childhood diseases as a pediatric patient, thanks to the immunity provided by breast milk.
“It’s a remarkable decrease for health expenses,” she said.