Women's Health

Published on December 1st, 2017

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St. Luke’s First in Area with New Supplemental Donor Breast Milk Program

St. Luke’s University Health Network has partnered with Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank in Pittsburgh to provide donor breast milk to late preterm and term babies who need supplemental feeding after birth. The program, the first of its kind in the region, will be utilized at the nurseries in both Allentown and Bethlehem for babies who need a little extra help with feeding in those first few hours and days after birth. Physicians will suggest this feeding “bridge” option on a case by case basis for moms and families who fully intend to breastfeed, but for various reasons, need to temporarily supplement.

“We’ve been using donor breast milk for infants in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for nearly eight years,” says Kimberly Costello, DO, director of neonatology at St. Luke’s Hospital. “Breast milk has powerful, healing and nurturing benefits for our premies and NICU babies. But it is often the case where late preterm or full term babies in the newborn nursery can benefit from supplemental breast milk too — that’s where our new program kicks in.”

The babies who utilize this “bridge” system won’t need the donated breast milk for extended periods of time, just until moms can produce what the baby needs or the baby’s health situation no longer requires supplemental feedings. The donated breast milk is supplied by partner, Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank, who ensures that donors are properly screened, milk is pasteurized and made available to purchase and ship to health care facilities across the country.

“There are a variety of reasons that late pre-term or full term babies need extra breast milk and supplementation is necessary,” explains Dr. Costello. “Some moms have delayed breast milk production, some moms of multiples have a difficult time with milk supply, some babies may have low blood sugar, others may be jaundice and need extra hydration, some may be losing weight and need extra feedings or have trouble latching — it’s up to the doctor’s discretion, but we’re happy to provide this as an option for moms who are committed to breastfeeding, but can’t initially fulfill their babies’ needs.”

While St. Luke’s physicians and nurses always respect each patient’s feeding preferences, they also educate patients on the short term and long term benefits of breastfeeding, like the lower risks of conditions like asthma, obesity, SIDS and type-2 diabetes.

“Studies show that even one feeding of formula can disrupt the health benefits of previous breastfeeding,” says Dr. Costello. “So it’s not ideal to supplement with formula in these specific “bridge’ cases.” In fact, one of the objectives of Healthy People 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiative to improve healthcare practices across the country, is that 80 percent of babies at hospitals are being fed breast milk by the year 2020. Hospital facilities throughout the country are finding new and innovative ways to reach this goal with donor breast milk programs and various education initiatives to promote the long term health benefits of breastfeeding.

For moms who want to help by donating their own breast milk, Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank lists the requirements and procedure here. The donor breast milk bridge program kicks off at the end of October at both the Allentown and Bethlehem campuses. For more information, talk to your St. Luke’s OB-GYN provider or pediatrician.


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