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Backus, Windham Launch Human Milk Donation Program to Give Newborns a Helping Hand

June 20, 2023

The first few days of a baby’s life can be stressful for both infant and mother. There’s the birth. There’s the introduction to the family. And there’s feeding. For some babies and moms, that can be the hardest part.

For mothers who choose breastfeeding, those early days can be challenging. Ninety percent of new mothers at the Backus Hospital Birthing Center and who use the Windham Hospital Women’s Health Center opt for breastfeeding, says Kara Giroux, RN, lactation consultant for Hartford HealthCare in eastern Connecticut. Being able to fully support those choices led to the implementation of a human milk donation program this month in the region.

“Mothers can struggle with exclusively breastfeeding their babies during their hospital stay,” explains Giroux, who was a labor and delivery nurse for many years before becoming a lactation consultant in 2015. “We explore alternative feeding methods as one of the ways we support the mother and baby, and that includes using human donor milk to supplement the mother.”

Program began June 1

Giroux says it can take up to three days for the milk in the mother’s breasts to transition from colostrum (the first form of breastmilk that is released by the mammary glands after giving birth) to milk. “And that’s typically the length of their stay in the hospital.”

Hartford HealthCare contracts with Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast for its donor milk. According to its website, “a nonprofit milk bank collects breast milk from mothers who have more than their babies need after they have completed a health screening, then pasteurizes it and tests the milk, after which it is dispensed.”

The program launched on June 1. So far three patients were deemed eligible and two of those opted in to the program. Ultimately one of the two did not need supplementation, but one did.

The mother “was very happy we were able to support her and her baby’s nutritional needs,” Giroux says.

Babies learn by doing

The donated milk is provided to the baby via various means, Giroux says. That can include by spoon or a special infant cup, or by using a small tube attached to a finger. This method gives the baby the chance to practice sucking while still getting the needed milk. There is a “supplemental nursing system” that can be used alongside the mother’s breast as well. Traditional bottle feeding is typically a last resort, she said.

“Babies learn by doing, and so do moms,” Giroux says. “The biggest part of our work is to support the mother’s breastfeeding.”

Giroux says launching a human milk supplement program here is a logical step in the Backus maternity journey. In 2019, Backus was designated a “Baby Friendly Hospital” and in 2021 was awarded a certificate of excellence for being a “Baby Friendly Employer.”

“Our biggest part of this journey is we support moms in their intended feeding method,” she says. “We have shown that we do all we can to support mothers in their feeding goals, and to support the health of the baby and the mother.”