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GBMC to Open Human Milk Bank to Care for Premature Infants

July 23, 2013
Premature babies face a number of challenges. In fact, 10 to 15 percent of those born at a weight of fewer than 1,500 grams will develop a potentially fatal complication called necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition that causes damage to the lining of the intestines. Fortunately, studies have shown that this condition can often be avoided by using breast milk. For this reason, GBMC will soon add a Human Milk Bank to its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Dr. Howard Birenbaum
Dr. Howard Birenbaum
According to Howard Birenbaum, MD, Director of Neonatology at GBMC, “Some new mothers experience insufficient milk production, are unable to breastfeed due to a medical condition or choose not to breastfeed. But, we want the most vulnerable babies to have the advantage of breast milk, as it contains live cells, antibodies and many more components that help decrease the likelihood of infection and gastrointestinal problems. Breast milk won’t prevent all cases of necrotizing enterocolitis, but it reduces the incidence by half and is a big step in the right direction.”

GBMC’s goal is to provide all babies younger than 30 weeks gestation or weighing less than 1,250 grams with an exclusive human milk diet if the parents approve, even if the milk does not come from the biological mother. As the infant grows, the breast milk will require fortification to ensure they are getting additional nutrients and more calories to continue to grow at the appropriate rate. GBMC will utilize human milk derived fortifiers, as well. Once babies reach about 1,800 grams, they can transition to premature formula if the mother does not intend to continue providing breast milk.

The milk will be supplied by licensed milk banking organizations in San Jose, California and Wake, North Carolina, which follow strict regulations put in place by the Human Milk Banking Association of America. All milk will be processed and tested to ensure product safety before it will be sent frozen to GBMC. “Maryland has stringent requirements regarding donating human tissue, and breast milk is considered a tissue. Parents can rest assured that the milk their babies receive is safe and healthy,” explains Dr. Birenbaum.

Dr. Victor Khouzami
Dr. Victor Khouzami
According to Victor Khouzami, MD, Chairman of Obstetrics and Director of Women’s Services at GBMC, costs associated with having a Human Milk Bank are high, but the benefit to babies is worth it. “In the long term, very premature babies who have had the advantage of human milk are less likely to deal with future gastrointestinal issues and expensive, complex surgeries,” he says. Dr. Khouzami adds that milk bank services are not yet covered by insurance in Maryland, but thanks to generous support from the Women’s Hospital Foundation, donations will cover the cost of breast milk for babies in need at GBMC. “We express our sincerest gratitude to the Women’s Board for making our Human Milk Bank possible. Having this service available here is the right thing to do for our most fragile babies,” says Dr. Khouzami.

Additional funding is needed in order to support the Human Milk Bank. To learn how to donate funds, please visit GBMC Philanthropy.
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