In May, the WeeSteps program at Poudre Valley Hospital celebrated 25 years as a depot for the Mother's Milk Bank, a processing center in Denver for all donated breast milk in Colorado.
|Laurie Muller and son Ellison attended the WeeSteps celebration in May. Muller has donated 3,084 ounces of breast milk, about 24 gallons, to the Mother's Milk Bank in honor of her daughter, Maisy Jane, who was stillborn at 23 weeks in May 2009.
This was a major milestone for WeeSteps, which helps new moms and babies adjust to new life through such healthy tactics as breastfeeding. As a depot, WeeSteps keeps donated milk in a freezer until it can be delivered to the Mother's Milk Bank at Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center, Denver.
For Laurie Muller, a PVH registered nurse who specializes in lactation education, the celebration was a time for private reflection, both as a mother who breastfed her children and as a women who has made significant donations of breast milk.
She listened intently to a talk given by Laraine Lockhart-Borman, manager of Mother's Milk Bank. Muller was particularly touched by hearing how other lactating women feel so strongly protective of the milk they donate. That rang true for her. Those same feelings have become a part of her.
"I feel really protective of the milk that I pump," Muller said. "I want it to go to a good cause, to get to the babies who need it. It's a very personal thing for me."
In recent years, Muller donated 3,084 ounces of breast milk, about 24 gallons, to the Mother's Milk Bank in honor of her daughter, Maisy Jane, who was stillborn at 23 weeks in May 2009.
The milk was used by the Mother's Milk Bank, along with annual donations totaling 360,000 ounces from hundreds of other lactating women, to nourish babies in 29 states.
Muller started on her journey of donations after her second son, Sullivan, was born. She donated 598 ounces between then and the time Maisy Jane was stillborn. Following Maisy Jane's tragic birth, Muller's milk supply was low and she could only donate 50 ounces.
[Related: Learn more about WeeSteps and donating breast milk]
Her gift was remarkable. Consider these comparisions:
- A lactating woman will donate an average of 400 ounces of milk to the Mother's Milk Bank.
- The average lactating woman produces 25 to 32 ounces of milk every 24 hours.
Muller didn't keep track of the many hours she sat attached to the breast pump machine. To keep busy during those times, she telephoned friends or checked her Facebook page. The early morning pumping -- at 6 a.m. -- was the most difficult. She hurried as much as possible so she could return to sleep. At one point mastitis set in and she had to quit pumping while she took antibiotics for two weeks.
Muller approached the pumping with a plan to gain additional milk beyond the amount needed for breastfeeding her child. Immediately after birth, she began pumping milk two extra times a day.
"That put more demand on my body right from the beginning so I could end up with extra milk that I could donate," she explained.
PVH uses donated milk in the neonatal intensive care unit, 8,666 ounces in 2011. The milk comes from the Mother's Milk Bank, but, because of confidentiality regulations, there's no way to know if any milk donated by Muller made it was back to feed babies in the NICU.
For some of the tiniest NICU babies, some who are barely the size of a Barbie doll, one ounce provides enough food a full day.
Breast milk contains antibodies that protect babies from infections and allergies, and helps promote health and growth. NICU nurses have seen firsthand the benefits of breast milk as some of the smallest and sickest babies thrive on it.
Barb Peters, NICU's nurse manager, said breast milk is the perfect food for babies. In particular, premature and sick infants benefit because the milk helps prevent medical complications, improves feeding tolerance and keeps a baby's intestines from becoming inflamed.
"The ability to give these special babies breast milk is a tremendous boost in helping them become healthy, growing babies," Peters said. "For NICU babies whose mothers don't have enough breast milk, it's so wonderful to be able to rely on donated milk. If we don't have dedicated donors like Laurie, we wouldn't have enough breast milk to help out these babies."
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