When it comes to nourishing babies, breast is best. Now, lactating mothers in Southern Oregon can give not only their own children a good start in life, but nutritionally at-risk little ones around the country, as well.
Providence Medford Medical Center recently moved around some furniture in its special-care nursery, installed a commercial-grade freezer and became a drop-off point for mothers wanting to donate extra breast milk.
"It's really exciting because the closest [milk-drop location] is four and a half hours away in Portland," says Tracy Hanson, lactation educator at the facility and the driving force behind the initiative.
A woman who wants to donate her milk may see fliers with Hanson's information at clinics and other places where pregnant women and new moms gather, or she might be referred by a healthcare practitioner.
Once a mom makes contact, Hanson explains the process. The mom then calls the Northwest Mothers Milk Bank in Portland, where a staff member does a health and lifestyle screening, and provides her with a donor number. The woman then has blood drawn at Providence Medford and schedules a time to drop off the milk to Hanson. There's no cost to the donor; it's all paid for by the milk bank.
"Once I have the milk, I freeze it, package it and ship it to the milk bank, where it's pasteurized and distributed," Hanson explains. "So let's say a neonatal intensive-care unit in Idaho needs breast milk for a sick baby. They would contact all of the milk banks in the country to see where they could get it the fastest."
Milk that's offered before the mother goes through the proper process isn't turned away. Rather, Hanson will store it until the mother is cleared to donate.
Not every nursing mother produces an abundance of milk, but many do. And Hanson has spoken with enough of them who are faced with the challenge of what to do with it — especially when "their husbands are complaining there's no room in the freezer for the elk meat," she chuckles.
While breast milk is beneficial to all babies, it can be especially crucial to the littlest and the sickest because of its nutritional value and because it's easily digestible for medically fragile infants.
The milk-drop service is a perfect fit for Providence Medford, according to Hanson, who teaches breastfeeding, newborn care and childbirth education, as well as trains doulas. The facility is a "baby-friendly hospital," she says, meaning that it follows the 10 steps outlined by the UNICEF/WHO's Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
"If I were lactating right now, I would be doing it," Hanson says. "What a wonderful gift for one mother to give another mother, to give another baby. We're doing it for babies, for mothers, for society."
For more information or to arrange to make a milk donation, call 541.732.5717.