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Overlake Medical Center opens Mother’s Milk Depot

The Women’s Clinic at Overlake Medical Center has opened a Mother’s Milk Depot, where moms can donate their breast milk to infants in need. With the opening of the milk depot, Overlake becomes one of only a few hospitals in western Washington to offer a local donation location to mothers in the greater Seattle area.

A milk depot is a controlled collection point where healthy, lactating women can donate their surplus breast milk for premature babies. The milk collection, shipping, processing and distribution are overseen by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), an organization consisting of multiple banks and collection depots throughout the United States and Canada.

“We’re very excited to bring this new, vital service to our community,” said Lynne Saunders, manager of Overlake Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. “Our top priority is providing evidence-based treatment and best practice to those in our care, including the hospital’s youngest patients in our NICU.”

Studies showing strong clinical benefits combined with recommendations from many health organizations have prompted a growing number of hospitals to provide donated, pasteurized human milk to premature infants when their mother’s own milk is not available.

Donated breast milk provides life-saving nutrition and immune support to fragile, premature babies. In the United States, there is a critical shortage of donated human milk. According to the HMBANA, there are 60,000 low birth weight infants (weighing 3.5 pounds or less) born every year who need donated breast milk for life-saving nutrition.

“Nonprofit milk depots and banks throughout the U.S. are taking care of babies who fit in the palm of your hand. For them, breast milk is lifesaving, not just what’s best,” said Kim Updegrove, president of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, the umbrella organization that ensures the safety of human milk donations in the U.S. and Canada.

“Healthy, lactating mothers with infants under 1 year of age should get screened to be a donor,” Updegrove said. “They can be a lifesaver today at no cost to themselves.”

With the opening of its Mother’s Milk Depot, Overlake hopes to make it more convenient for moms to donate and serve its infants. Last year, Overlake’s NICU used more than 1,000 ounces of donated human milk to treat critically ill premature infants.

“Donating breast milk is a true labor of love that can provide life-saving nutrition and immune support to fragile, premature babies,” said Mother’s Milk Depot manager Sandra Salmon, RN, who specializes in mom and baby care as part of the Overlake Medical Clinics Women’s Clinic. “With the opening of our milk depot, we’re looking for mothers who would like to join our efforts to provide the best support possible to these infants,” she said.

Mothers who have been screened and accepted as prospective donors can come to the Overlake Women’s Clinic to drop off their frozen breast milk and have blood work done at the medical center’s outpatient lab. The milk is temporarily stored in a deep freezer before being shipped for processing along with the blood samples. Overlake’s depot works in partnership with the Mother’s Milk Bank of Colorado, which will provide the screening and blood testing at no cost to donating moms.

The mailed blood samples are tested to assure donors meet the proper criteria (much like testing for blood donation). Milk that is safe for use is then pasteurized and cultured to assure there is no contamination from the processing. The milk is then frozen in 2 to 4 ounce bottles for shipment to hospital neonatal intensive care units.

Twenty-seven-year-old Madeleine Williams, a donor and mother to her own 7-month-old son, is hoping more mothers will donate surplus breast milk. She recently donated more than 300 ounces of surplus breast milk to Overlake’s new milk depot. She’s a nurse in Overlake Medical Center’s Emergency Department. She uses a breast pump during breaks to express milk for her son and extra milk for the Mother’s Milk Depot.

“We’ve been so blessed with a healthy child,” Williams said. But she also knows there are families who are not able to produce milk for their premature infants. “There are babies out there who are dying because they don’t have this nourishing milk that they need for their bodies. I feel so lucky to be able to give such a unique gift,” she said.

Milk banks depend on “drop off” milk depots to meet the growing demand for donated human milk. Only milk from a HMBANA milk bank can safely be given to preterm infants in the hospital.

For more information about Overlake Medical Center’s new mother’s milk depot and to learn about how to donate, call 425-635-6150.

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