Tiny Odin Scarborough arrived eight weeks early at University Hospital but after a little more than two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit he was ready to head home Thursday. His mother, Katie, was not surprised.
“He was fat and strong,” she said. “He’s a fighter.”
Odin was fed Katie’s breast milk, processed and stored by the hospital’s milk processing lab, which she was able to pump at the site and leave for him.
“It’s just a little easier to pump here than to pump at home,” said Scarborough, who lives in Blythe.
She plans to breast-feed him for at least a year. Hospitals in Augusta say encouraging breast-feeding and even requiring breast milk for some small babies is crucial.
At University Hospital, babies born under 3.3 pounds get breast milk, either from the mother or donor breast milk that the hospital purchases, said Pat Corley, the nurse manager for the NICU. Babies that small are more prone to develop necrotizing enterocolitis, when the developing intestines become inflamed and can become damaged.
The incidence rate of babies developing that serious condition “go down significantly when you are exclusively using mother’s milk,’ said neonatologist Vincent Brawley. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends it, he said.
“We’re at 100 percent of (those) babies getting some type of breast milk, whether it is from the mama or donor,” Corley said.
Sally Wood, a certified lactation consultant at Doctors Hospital, explains it to mothers this way: “A baby’s (gastrointestinal) tract is pretty immature when a baby is born. That first breast milk, colostrum, that milk is kind of like a conditioner for the inside of the gut. As a result, babies that are exclusively breast-fed have less cases of diarrhea, they get fewer illnesses altogether anyway.”
Donor milk is often thinner than the mother’s milk, with fewer calories and protein, and because it is pasteurized it has lost some of the “good, immunologic infection-protecting properties” of a mother’s breast milk, Brawley said.
“The only reason you use donor milk when don’t have mom’s milk is it is so much better than formula,” he said.
Doctors Hospital is trying to do its part by recently launching the area’s first breast milk “depot,” where women can drop off breast milk donations that would go to a breast milk bank in Colorado. There have been inquiries but no donors so far, probably because the women have to be well-screened, including filling out an online questionnaire and submitting blood samples, Wood said. The hospital has a dedicated freezer for the donations and will handle the shipment, Wood said.
“We’re simply a collecting site,” she said.
University invested more than $300,000 to create its breast milk facility more than a year ago and is happy with the results, Corley said.
“The main thing is to support mother’s milk because that is by far the best thing,” Brawley said. “Even if we didn’t buy donor milk, I would want this program to support mom’s milk, for the pumping, collecting and proper handling.”
Scarborough, who was breast-fed, said there was no question that Odin would be fed from her milk.
“Because breast milk is the best milk,” she said. “I think it is important for bonding, too.”