Health Care

Preemies benefit from breast milk donor program

Jamie Standage holds her preemie son, Charlie Ray, at the Wesley Neonatal Unit. (Feb. 14, 2015)
Jamie Standage holds her preemie son, Charlie Ray, at the Wesley Neonatal Unit. (Feb. 14, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

First-time mom Jamie Standage was hoping to breastfeed her baby when he was born. But in the weeks following her baby’s premature birth at Wesley Medical Center, he’s been getting breast milk from other lactating moms, as well, through Wesley’s new breast milk donor program.

Helping tiny babies like Charlie Ray — who was born 10 weeks early on Jan. 26, weighing 3 pounds, 3 ounces — is the reason Wesley Medical Center started the program in October. The program is for babies weighing Charlie Ray’s weight or less who are patients in Wesley’s Level IIIB Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“Recent publications confirm speculation that preemies who are exclusively fed human milk have lower mortality, infection and necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) rates,” Barry Bloom, Wesley’s neonatal special nurseries medical director, said in a release announcing the program. “Unfortunately, not every mom is able to provide enough milk to maintain an exclusive human milk diet.”

In the first few weeks of Charlie Ray’s life, about 75 percent of the milk he received was donated milk, said Standage, while she was able to provide about 25 percent.

“I’ve been extremely grateful for that,” Standage said. “It’s been one of the most important things for him to get the human breast milk.”

Necrotizing enterocolitis happens in premature infants when the tissue in the intestine is injured or dies off. Babies who get NEC stay in the hospital longer and may have to have intestine-removal surgery, said Paula Delmore, Wesley’s neonatology manager. About 20 percent of babies who get NEC will die.

According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, extremely premature babies who are fed an exclusive breast milk diet have significantly lower surgery rates related to NEC and require fewer days of IV feedings, Wesley officials said.

Before starting the donor milk program in October, preemies were fed formula to supplement or replace breast milk, Delmore said.

According to Wesley officials, about 1,000 of the more than 6,000 babies born at the hospital annually require intensive or special care.

Of those, about 200 will qualify for the breast milk donor program, said Delmore.

Wesley’s first breast milk donor was Luci Bain, a mother whose son spent time in Wesley’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and special care nursery unit.

By January, the program had seven approved donors, according to Delmore and Holli Taylor, a neonatology lactation consultant.

To provide a safe, standardized and steady supply of pasteurized donor breast milk, Wesley has partnered with Prolacta Bioscience, a California company that manages the donor process by conducting health screenings, blood testing and the milk collection process.

“The application is very precise and the bar is high” to participate in the program, Delmore said.

Lactating moms who want to donate have to provide a health history, be screened for medications and provide a blood test, along with a DNA sample. The blood test screens for infectious diseases and drugs, while the DNA is used to ensure the milk received is from the donor.

Prolacta sends a lab representative to the mom’s home or office to do the blood draw and DNA cheek swab. Prolacta also provides the collection and shipping supplies to the donor.

At Prolacta’s pharmaceutical-grade facility, the donor milk is formulated into both ready-to-feed milk and a fortified, or concentrated, version of breast milk that provides more nutrients for premature babies.

Through the partnership with Prolacta, Wesley is guaranteed the ability to purchase the same amount of milk that its recruited donors have provided to the milk bank. In January, for example, Wesley donors provided 566 ounces, or nearly 17 liters, of breast milk.

Wesley’s program is the second such milk donor program in the Wichita area.

Since November 2012, Via Christi Health has provided a similar program, collaborating with Mothers’ Milk Bank in Denver, one of 16 nonprofit banks in North America. According to Via Christi officials, nearly 18,800 ounces of breast milk has been collected through its program, with about one to three donors providing between 300 to 600 ounces per month.

Two area programs accept breast milk donations

Lactating mothers who want to donate extra breast milk can participate in two milk donor programs in Wichita. By sponsoring milk donor programs, the neonatal intensive care units at Wesley Medical Center and Via Christi Health have priority to receive donated milk for premature babies if there is a national shortage.

For more information or to participate in the Wesley Donor Milk Program, visit, e-mail or call 855-379-0999.

To participate in the Via Christi Milk Bank Depot, call 316-689-5426.