BY EMILY MILLER
BOCA RATON — A hospital here has joined a movement in Florida and elsewhere to become a breast milk depot that has teamed up with Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida to help provide premature and critically ill babies the nutrition they need.
Boca Raton Regional Hospital now serves as a depot for interested donors who qualify. The milk dropped off at the hospital will be sent to Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida in Orlando to be distributed across the state.
“It’s really a gift to these babies who are born at-risk,” said Karen Kesler, founder of Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida. “You want to give them the best care possible. and that’s donor milk.”
The depot in Boca is one of nine in the state and one of three in South Florida, Kesler said.
Delray Beach resident Kacy Sallusto was a driving force behind the opening of the milk depot at Boca Regional Hospital, said Karen Edlington, director of Women’s and Children’s Services at the hospital.
When Sallusto, 29, gave birth last November to twin girls nearly 10 weeks early, she insisted they receive only human milk during their six-week stay in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
‘The very best start’
As is the case with many moms who give birth prematurely, Sallusto was not immediately able to produce milk for her babies.
“I said if you have to feed them before my milk comes in, then we’ll order donor milk,” she said.
At the time, the hospital did not have a policy to provide donor milk, so doctors made special arrangements to have human milk delivered from a milk bank in Texas at Sallusto’s expense, Edlington said.
“It never seemed right that we couldn’t offer that to all of our babies, and there were going to be some parents who maybe couldn’t afford to do that,” she said.
In August — roughly nine months after Sallusto gave birth — the hospital opened as a milk depot, collecting donated breast milk for babies in need.
“These babies deserve to get the very best start, and we can be a part of doing that,” Edlington said.
Donors looking to drop off milk at the depot must be registered through Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida, Edlington said. Milk collected at the hospital is delivered to the milk bank in Orlando, where it’s tested and pasteurized before being distributed to neonatal intensive care units.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says, “if a mother’s milk is not available, then human donor milk is the next best thing,” Edlington said. “There’s a lot of evidence behind it.”
Human milk improves health outcomes overall of premature infants and decreases the rate of necrotizing enterocolitis, a gastrointestinal disease that causes destruction of the bowel, Edlington said.
“It can decrease infection, it can decrease length of stay (at the hospital),” she said. “It’s tolerated better by a preemie (than commercial formula).”
Donor milk also helps babies with feeding intolerance, intestinal injuries and other life-threatening conditions.
As with medicine, parents must provide consent before a baby can receive donated milk, Edlington said.
“We’ve had nobody really that hasn’t wanted to do this for their baby,” Edlington said. “At first people think, ‘Would somebody really want to use somebody else’s breast milk?’ But overwhelmingly, we’ve had such a positive response that we’re doing that.”
The milk bank in Orlando follows guidelines set by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
Healthy, lactating moms with a baby younger than 12 months can become a donor, Kesler said. The best candidates are new moms who produce more milk than their babies can drink.
Potential donors are screened for health issues at the milk bank’s expense. Once approved, a donor expresses and stores her milk, and drops it off at the nearest depot within six months.
Within a week of the depot opening in Boca, at least three moms reached out to the milk bank to become donors. Julie Haggerty was one of them.
“I’m just lucky enough to produce a lot of milk at a time,” she said. “I think it’s a gift I can give to others.”