If you’ve ever visited a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), you’ve seen babies who can fit into the palm of your hand. Premature babies, born weeks and sometimes months before their due date, need extra care to survive and thrive.
A key pillar of support for premature babies is human breast milk. One nonprofit organization, the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Mississippi (MMBM), is dedicated to bringing mothers’ milk to babies in NICUs around the state, and to ill and special needs infants by physician prescription.
A donor’s milk can save babies’ lives. An antibody in mothers’ milk is essential to preventing NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis), an inflammation in the intestines that can be fatal to premature babies. The milk coats and protects the intestinal lining, while also being nutritionally dense and combating blindness, heart defects, asthma and other serious issues common in premature infants.
A great need for donor milk
There is a great need in Mississippi for donor milk, given that its rates for premature births are among the highest in the country. Around 17 percent of babies in Mississippi are born before 39 weeks of pregnancy, compared to the national average of around 12 percent. The risk is even higher for African-American women, where rates can be greater than 20 percent — one baby in five. Mississippi consistently ranks among the bottom of U.S. states in other indicators of infant health, as well, such as infant mortality and low birth weight, which is why UProot made Improving Infant Health one of its four priorities.
MMBM is Mississippi’s only accredited HMBANA milk bank; it is medically supported and professionally staffed. Though the organization was established in 2010 and has been pasteurizing milk in its lab since 2014, “people say all the time that they don’t know about us,” says Anna Higginbottom, Deputy Executive Director of MMBM. “We’re always looking for donors and volunteers.”
How to get involved
Lactating women with surplus milk begin by contacting MMBM for a pre-screening phone interview to ensure that they’re in good health. After taking a blood test at MMBM’s expense, they’re ready to donate.
Donors can drop off frozen milk at one of ten depot locations across the state, including the newest at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Brookhaven; the milk is then shipped to the lab in Flowood for pasteurization. MMBM has had 382 milk donors since its opening and has approved 36 new donors to date in 2019.
“We would love more volunteers to come in,” says Higginbottom, who is part of a small but dedicated staff at MMBM. “They can be trained to help in the lab with pasteurization, and we’d also love to have help with paperwork.”
Mothers’ Milk Bank of Mississippi is a key player in moving forward UProot’s priority to Improve Infant Health. In addition to processing and distributing donor milk, the staff travels around the state educating hospitals about MMBM’s services. As funding allows, the organization plans to continue opening new depot locations to make donations as easy as possible and serve even more babies around the state.
To learn more, visit www.msmilkbank.org and the MMBM Facebook page. MMBM is always looking for volunteers, milk donors, tax-deductible individual donations, and grant funds. Registrations are open for its 6th annual Milk Run 5K on Saturday, September 21 at Flowood Nature Park, where all proceeds benefit MMBM.
Learn more about what else you can do to Improve Infant Health in Mississippi.