St. Christopher's Hospital for Children has launched a new Donor Breast Milk Program to serve newborns in the hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The Donor Breast Milk Program allows breast milk to be a feeding option for the critically-ill patients being treated in the NICU. The hospital partnered with Mid-Atlantic Mothers' Milk Bank, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit milk bank, for all of the donor milk. Mid-Atlantic Mothers' Milk Bank is part of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, and all donor milk is processed and screened.

Donor breast milk is used for a variety of reasons, including for infants whose mother may not be readily available able to produce breast milk, is unable to produce breastmilk or is experiencing below normal milk supply. When an infant is transferred to the NICU, their mother may not arrive at the same time, and this option can be used in the interim until the mother arrives.

"Since initiating the NICU Donor Milk program here at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, we have seen an increase in the usage of breast milk. We are now able to provide this valuable resource to our critically ill premature infants who would have otherwise not received it," explains Katherine Breznak, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, CLC, Nutrition Support Dietitian, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Breznak currently works solely with patients in the NICU and played an integral part in launching the Donor Breast Milk Program at St. Christopher's.

Studies have shown breastmilk leads to health benefits for many newborns, and the hospital encourages this feeding option to new mothers. A recent American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement supports that donor human milk may be used for high-risk infants when the mother's milk is not available or the mother cannot provide milk. Breastmilk is the preferred options for the smallest patients being treated for necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and gastrointestinal complications.

"As part of a quality improvement initiative, we are monitoring the utilization of donor breast milk to assess if it will potentially decrease the incidence and severity of NEC in infants transferred to our NICU," explains Dr. Vineet Bhandari, Chief, Section of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine.

The NICU is located in St. Christopher's new 135,000-square-foot Critical Care Tower, which continues to offer the highest listed level of neonatal care in Pennsylvania, with 39 beds, private room options and equipped with advanced technology.

St. Christopher's Hospital