While some kids don't like to share, 4-month-old Adelheid Stalder was downright docile while her mother piled packet after packet of frozen breast milk in an ice chest – a total of about 500 ounces – to nourish other babies.
"I make more than my fair share," said Andrea Stalder, 29, of Sacramento. "I make more than she can eat, about 8 ounces extra a day, and there are moms out there who can't. There are babies who really need this, so why not share?"
Andrea Stalder gave her milk at the area's first known human milk donation drive at Sutter Medical Plaza on Monday. The event's goal was to raise awareness of the health benefits of breast-feeding and the severe shortage of human milk for babies, especially premature babies, in hospitals nationwide.
The milk is being collected for the Mothers' Milk Bank of California, a San Jose-based nonprofit that ships about 350,000 ounces of processed human milk a year to 65 hospitals in 13 states for babies in need.
It is one of seven human milk banks nationwide.
Pauline Sakamoto, executive director of the bank, said medical research shows that breast milk has almost magical qualities for nourishing developing babies, and for protecting premature infants from potentially deadly illnesses.
She said U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin in 2011 highlighted the values of breast milk and called on breast-feeding mothers to donate their excess milk. Since then, demand at hospitals has increased, especially for the tiniest patients, premature babies under 2 pounds in neonatal intensive care units.
"Premature babies are vulnerable to infection, especially a kind that causes gangrene in the intestines, which can be fatal," she said.
Nationally, premature babies who are fed formula contract intestinal infections at a rate of 7 percent, but when human milk is fed to the babies, infections drop to nearly zero, Sakamoto said.
Premature babies also are susceptible to severe allergies, respiratory infections and slow weight gain, all of which can be fought with the enzymes, hormones and antibodies in breast milk.
Moms came to the drive to apply to be donors and drop off milk donations. They also learned how to be an ongoing donor. Donors fill out applications, get doctors' permission and take a blood test to screen for any medical problems. They then express or pump milk and freeze it for up to four months in a traditional home freezer.
Once they collect 70 ounces of frozen milk, they contact the bank, which sends them an ice chest and cold packs for shipping. The milk is pasteurized and tested for bacterial counts before being delivered to hospitals.
The milk bank charges the hospitals $3 an ounce for processing.
Sutter Medical Center is one of the top buyers of breast milk in the area, said Kate Risingsun, Sutter's regional lactation manager. She said breast milk is considered an essential part of medical care for premature babies now.
She said mothers who deliver prematurely often don't produce milk immediately. Some babies are deprived of human milk when their mothers are ill, unable to produce enough milk or are separated from their babies for a period of time.
"Some mothers donate milk when their own baby has died," Risingsun said. "It can be part of the healing process for them, and a way to bring value to their experience."
Natalya Bente, 34, of Sacramento came to donate milk, because her own son Emitt, now 8 months old, was born at Sutter Memorial two months early, weighing just 3 pounds, 4 ounces.
The baby spent 27 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, and she didn't produce much milk for him at first. Donated milk helped tide him over until she could take over feeding duties full time.
"I want to help other babies just like him who need nutrition," Bente said. "It feels good to know I'm giving another child something their mom can't."