Health & Medicine

Breast-feeding mothers donate hundreds of ounces of milk in Sacramento

Heeding a statewide call for mothers’ milk, a handful of parents came with babies in tow or toting coolers of frozen breast milk to free drop-off events this week in Sacramento.

Mila Linhart, 4 months old, was sweetly oblivious as her mother handed over about 400 ounces of frozen breast milk on Tuesday, surplus that Elizabeth Pontarelli wanted to share with preemie babies like her daughter.

“I make more than she eats every day … so I’m happy to be able to make a lot of breast milk and share it with other families,” said Pontarelli, who freezes surplus breast milk in a mini-freezer at home. Pontarelli, who’s starting next month as a Kaiser surgeon, said she was planning to ship her supply to the Mothers’ Milk Bank nonprofit in San Jose, but found out about the drop-off event at Sutter Medical Plaza in Sacramento.

Tuesday’s breast milk dropoff was the second of three local donor events this week, sponsored by Mothers’ Milk Bank, which collects and distributes frozen milk to 114 hospitals in California and 10 other states. The last of three drop-off events is Wednesday in Roseville.

“Demand is skyrocketing,” said Pauline Sakamoto, executive director of Mothers’ Milk Bank. “Especially for pre-term infants, they need human milk. … We ship it to hospitals in Alaska, Hawaii, Maryland … wherever it’s needed.” She said the mobile drop-off events are designed to raise awareness to help the milk bank meet its demand.

Sacramento dad Darren Butler brought in about 1,000 ounces of frozen breast milk in a red cooler. “We have way more than we need,” said Butler, a clinical analyst at Shriners Hospital, who said he and his wife have been bagging and storing frozen breast milk since their daughter Bailey was born nine months ago. “It’s a way to help other kids in need.”

Sharing breast milk has become more common in recent years. Nursing mothers who have an excess supply share their milk – sometimes for pay – through private breast banks or informal networks on social media and Facebook. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns mothers against using breast milk “acquired directly from individuals or through the internet” due to risk of exposing their infants to infectious diseases and illegal or prescription drugs. It recommends that mothers only use breast milk from a source that screens donors, such as Mothers’ Milk Bank and other members of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Donated breast milk is primarily needed for premature babies, who are “too small or sick to thrive on artificial milk (formula),” said Heather Conway, Sutter Medical Center lactation consultant and former president of the Sacramento Breastfeeding Coalition. She said babies born younger than 34 weeks often have fragile digestive systems that can’t easily digest cow’s milk and are at higher risk of developing severe intestinal infections with formula.

Breast milk is also needed for mothers whose supply is lagging or older babies who can’t tolerate artificial milk. In some cases, mothers who’ve lost a baby donate their milk as part of their grieving process.

Mothers’ Milk Bank expects to collect about 500,000 ounces this year, including at this week’s events in the Sacramento region.

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck

Mothers’ Milk Bank

What: A San Jose-based nonprofit that collects breast milk from around 900 mothers statewide. The frozen milk is shipped to about 114 hospitals in 11 states, including UC Davis and Sutter Medical Center Hospital. The breast milk is particularly in demand for premature infants in neonatal intensive care units.

How it works: Women need their doctor’s permission and get a free blood test to ensure they have no communicable diseases or drugs. Donors receive free plastic bags and a freezer container to ship breast milk that’s up to 6 months old.

Wednesday dropoff: Mothers can drop off frozen breast milk today from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Herself Moms, a maternity store at 151 N. Sunrise Ave. in Roseville.

More details: For how to donate, go to Mothersmilk.org or call 877-375-6645.

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