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Published on February 27, 2015

SRHS Partners with MUSC to Bring Milk Donors to Babies

When a baby is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), its survival may hinge on having human breast milk. Sometimes, a baby’s mother is not able to produce enough breast milk for their low birth weight baby. These low weight babies are born weighing less than 1,500 grams or just over 3 pounds. Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System (SRHS) is partnering with Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and the Mother’s Milk Bank of South Carolina in a milk donor program to connect these babies with human breast milk.

“Breast milk saves lives. The milk donor program is designed to provide low birth weight babies with human milk to prevent diseases they are at high risk for,” said Director of Women and Children’s Services, Elizabeth Kissinger R.N., M.S.N. “Breast milk prevents Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC), one disease that we are most concerned about.”

NEC occurs when tissue in the small or large intestine is injured or begins to die off. This causes the intestine to become inflamed or, in rare cases, develop a hole. When this happens, the intestine can no longer hold waste, so bacteria and other waste products pass through the intestine and enter the baby's bloodstream or abdominal cavity. This can make a baby very sick, possibly causing a life-threatening infection. NEC typically affects babies born before 32 weeks gestation, but it can occur in full-term infants who have health problems, like a heart defect. Babies with NEC usually develop it within the first two to four weeks of life.

Mothers are encouraged to pump their own milk to feed their underweight babies with breast milk. However, mothers may be unable to produce enough milk to satisfy the nutritional needs of a sick infant. Women who donate their breast milk may include women who have a great supply of milk after pregnancy and want to help babies. Others may be mothers who have lost their baby and give milk in their baby’s honor to help with their grief.

“In that case, instead of introducing formula from cow milk into the baby’s system, we will purchase donor breast milk from the Mother’s Milk Bank of South Carolina, a licensed and accredited donor milk bank, and provide the baby with that milk,” Kissinger said. “The donors are tested and screened, and their milk is pasteurized. The Milk Bank’s goal is to have milk ready to sell and distribute by spring. The Mother’s Milk Bank of South Carolina goal and mission is to provide very low birth weight babies of South Carolina human milk. That is exciting for our South Carolina babies.”

“You can’t mimic breast milk, and these babies are already so vulnerable,” said NICU dietician Karen Guthrie. “It helps lower their infection rate and improves their tolerance of feedings.”

While working to implement the program, SRHS is educating parents and nurses on the program.

“As an educator, my main role is to teach nurses why we are implementing the donor milk program including the health benefits and criteria for a baby to receive donor milk,” said Georgie McAbee with the SRHS Neonatal Outreach Program. “The biggest key is helping parents realize how donor milk is better for their baby and their digestive system so they can grow.”

Though women will not be able to donate to a specific baby, Spartanburg Medical Center will be a donation site or Milk Depot. Human milk donations will be accepted, frozen and shipped to the Mother’s Milk Bank of South Carolina.

“We anticipate our donation site will be accepting donations beginning this summer. I believe that exclusive breast milk in hospitals is on the horizon, especially in NICUs with our most vulnerable population,” Kissinger said. “Donor breast milk will be the standard when supplementation is needed.”

Human milk can prevent horrible, life threatening diseases.

“Human milk is medicine for these sick, tiny babies,” Kissinger said. “Having a robust donor milk program really just makes sense all the way around.”

About Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System

Featuring a full spectrum of services, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System (SRHS) is comprised of three hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, a multi-disciplinary physician group, a vibrant post-acute division, and is home to Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute. With more than 300 physicians and 5,900 associates on staff, SRHS serves 11 counties in South and North Carolina. Spartanburg Medical Center was ranked No. 1 regional hospital in South Carolina by U.S. News and World Report; the Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Commission on Cancer; and the American Nurses Association lists SRHS among the nation’s top 7 percent of hospitals for excellence in nursing.

About the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System

Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System offers advanced medical attention during the first days or weeks of a baby’s life with the staff of our Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  NICU physicians specialize in the care of critically ill newborns. The 35-bed NICU is on a dedicated floor of Spartanburg Medical Center. In addition to advanced tools to monitor and treat newborns, it includes a room for breastfeeding mothers, plus breastfeeding consultants and a private “Nesting Room” with a bed and shower. Parents can stay overnight before they take their baby home, and staff teaches them how to take care of their little one’s special needs. Parents can reach their baby’s nurse by phone 24 hours a day.

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Spartanburg Regional Fact Sheet

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Upcoming Events

  • Feb
    5:30 PM - 6:30 PM
    This fun and interactive class introduces brothers and sisters to the change they can expect when their sibling is born.
  • Feb
    11:30 AM - 1:30 PM
    "Table for Two - Daytime" is a breastfeeding support group for new moms and their baby that meets on Wednesday's at lunchtime.