The next breast thing: Sacramento women donate breast milk for a good cause

Annual drive collects approximately 3,000 ounces for newborns

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the December 15, 2016, issue.

An unusual donation drive on December 6 brought approximately 3,000 ounces of breast milk to Sutter Medical Plaza.

The donation drive was organized by Sutter Medical Center lactation specialist Heather Conway, president of the Breastfeeding Coalition of Greater Sacramento and the Mother’s Milk Bank of California, based in San Jose. The nonprofit bank delivers breast milk to 73 hospitals in 13 states.

Prematurely born babies have a higher survival rate when they are fed breast milk instead of formula. Rich in antibodies and antivirals, breast milk is less likely to result in infections. And one ounce is enough to feed a premature infant three or four times.

“We get teeny, tiny babies and we know that their survival is sometimes dependent on getting human milk,” said Conway, who works at Anderson Lucchetti Women’s and Children’s Center in Midtown. “Their bodies are designed to utilize human milk. … When we give them artificial milk, they don’t do as well. So as much as they need their mom’s own milk, this is the next best thing.”

Premature babies need to start consuming calories right after delivery. While women produce breast milk at delivery, it can take a few days for their bodies to excrete it. Health factors or medications can also sometimes prevent new mothers from being able to breast feed their little ones.

“If you have triplets, that’s often a lot of milk to produce so our triplets are often good candidates for donor milk,” Conway added.

The drive debuted locally five years ago. Sacramento donates about 250,000 ounces annually to the Mother’s Milk Bank.

In order to donate milk, lactating women must go through a screening process where they are interviewed, get their physicians’ approval and pass a blood test. Donors are then given a donation slip and can drop their donation off at a donation site or ship a cooler of their own milk directly to the Milk Bank. At the Milk Bank, donations are processed, tested for diseases and infections, pasteurized and then packed up and shipped to hospitals across the nation.