Many people choose to feed their babies with breast milk, but getting it isn't always easy. This is where the Mothers' Milk Bank in Arvada, the largest donor milk banks in the country, comes in.
"Having breast milk in the first two weeks of life can have a huge impact and can be life-changing for preemies," says Samantha Rhodes, a Milk Bank lactation consultant. "If you set up a good microbiome, it could help set up a healthy system for life."
That's a statement backed by decades of research. So Milk Bank employees — and researchers around the world — were taken aback after a U.S. delegation at July's World Health Assembly, a United Nations affiliate, tried to dismantle a resolution supporting breast milk over substitutes.
"I was shocked and disheartened to hear that the WHO [World Health Organization] resolution on Infant and Child Feeding wasn't easily approved in a unanimous way as had been thought," writes Milk Bank lactation specialist Abby Case in an email to Westword. "The protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding is a paramount issue and this resolution should be a high priority around the world. We must do our global part in helping all infants, children and mothers around the world, and Mothers' Milk Bank, along with many other breastfeeding advocacy groups, have signed the letter written by the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) on this issue."
For over thirty years, the mission of Mothers' Milk Bank's has been to get breast milk to the babies who need it most. This includes incubated infants in intensive care, little ones with dietary issues and newborns who can't get enough milk from their mothers.
This sort of situation is exactly what Milk Bank founder Joyce Ann Burgett faced when she had her son, Benjamin, in 1983. He was premature and she wanted him to have breast milk, but her milk had not yet come in. At the time, the only option in Denver was to supplement with formula. She vowed to help women like herself, and teamed up with Dr. Marianne Neifert to start the Mothers' Milk Bank in 1984. Today it's overseen by the Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation and located at 5394 Marshall Street in Arvada.
"Giving newborn breast milk greatly reduces NEC [necrotizing enterocolitis], an infection that occurs in the gut," says Case. "Also, for a mom who delivers early and doesn't have milk yet, if she can get donor milk while working up to breastfeeding, it can really help."
Aside from being the bank's resident lactation experts, Rhodes and Case also help mothers learn how to properly breastfeed at the Milk Bank's Baby Cafe. Mothers can get free support on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"We talk about breastfeeding goals, how things are and what's working and not working," says Rhodes.
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Mothers' Milk Bank offers five breast-milk options, including full-term, non-fat, early full-term, non-dairy and colostrum, the "liquid gold" that comes before the milk and contains vital nutrients and antibodies for newborns. No matter the type, each batch gets pasteurized and frozen, which is how it can be delivered to parents.
To get the milk, the bank relies on donors from all over the United States. Before they can start giving milk, each donor gets a blood test to determine that they are healthy and don't have any diseases, which can be passed through milk just like any bodily fluid. Even when the woman gets approval, the milk she gives is still tested (including for traces of THC) before being coded and added to other milk.
So far, the milk business has worked out well. Last year the bank celebrated its five-millionth ounce delivered and the twelve-thousandth milk donor. But they can always use more, says Christine Patoff, director of communications.
"We will never have too much milk," she adds. "It's like the magic sauce."