Campaign to help newborns in NICU shows benefits of human milk

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A campaign that started in 2007 to improve the outcome of babies in the NICU is showing the benefits of providing premature babies human milk.

Often mothers can't produce their own milk, so the donor milk in the milk bank is helping those moms and babies in need.

"I was frustrated because the first time I pumped, I was like, 'there's like three drops in there!'" new mom Katherine Dewald said, who had her newborn Lexi a little early -- around 34 weeks. “When you have a NICU baby, they need to gain weight pretty quickly, so the rate at which they were increasing her feeds was greater than what I could produce.”

Doctors and nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital told Dewald not to worry; they have a donor program.

“We have moms from our local areas, as well as our regional area that donate milk,” said Barbara Carr, the Assistant Medical Director for St. Luke’s Hospital NICU.

Carr said the MEDNAX 100,000 Babies Campaign has shown the benefits of giving premature babies human milk.

“Human milk is critically important for babies in the NICU, and that is one of the key focuses of the 100,000 babies campaign was increasing the use of human milk,” Carr added.

The campaign started in 2007 and looked at many aspects of neonatal care to improve outcomes down the road for many babies.

“What we found is that by affecting those key drivers in neonatal intensive care, that we can improve multiple morbidities that a baby may have otherwise as a result of being in the NICU,” Carr said.

Carr said moms go through an extensive screening process before they can donate to St. Luke’s human milk bank.

"That process makes the milk very safe from start to finish, from the moms who are donating their milk, to the processing of the milk, to then being able to give it to a baby in the NICU," Carr said.

“I was very thankful that the donor program existed, and so for the first two weeks while my milk supply was building up, especially after having a cesarean, I was able to utilize that program for her,” Dewald said.

Dewald said she can provide milk herself now.

Carr said the study looked at nearly 60,000 babies, and found that their risk of dying and their risk of having major infections dropped significantly.

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