Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank opened its doors in January 2016 to ensure that hospitals and outpatients in Pennsylvania and the Mid Atlantic States have a reliable, abundant, safe supply of donor milk.
An all human milk diet is highly protective against the most common and devastating complications in the neonatal intensive care unit. Complications that can increase lengths of stay, cause long term disability, or even death.
Most notably, the use of donor milk to achieve an all human milk diet can significantly reduce rates of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in at risk infants (Boyd 2007, Ganapathy 2012, Katorowska 2016, Meinzen-Derr 2009). This reduction may be quite substantial reaching levels near 80 % (Colaizy 2016, Cristifalo 2013). It is estimated that for every 18.5 vulnerable infants fed a human milk diet, one is saved from necrotizing enterocolitis (Boyd 2007). Those infants who acquire NEC despite an all human milk diet have a shorter, more benign course and rarely require surgery.
In addition to protection from NEC, the use of donor milk has been shown to reduce the incidence of various infections, decrease the total number of days of parenteral nutrition (TPN), decrease rates of retinopathy of prematurity, and reduce the length of stay in the NICU (Boyd 2007, Cristofalo 2013, Schanler 2005, 2006)
Increased Breastfeeding Rates
For a variety of reasons, many mothers with infants in the NICU setting struggle with providing enough milk for their infants despite adequate lactation support and education.
The very best nutrition for an infant is mother’s own milk with very rare exceptions. Donor milk is never used as a substitute for mother’s milk and is intended as a support to breastfeeding.
The use of donor milk when supplementation is necessary is associated with a significant increase in the consumption of mother’s own milk and exclusive breastfeeding upon discharge (Arslanoglus 2012, Kantorowska 2016).
This effect can be quite dramatic after the introduction of donor milk to a unit. After two years of donor milk use, a level 3 NICU in the US recently reported a 6-fold increased odds of the consumption of mother’s own milk in VLBW infants receiving donor milk (Parker 2016). The same unit also reported a 49% reduction in the cessation of maternal milk consumption during hospitalization.
Donor milk can also be an inexpensive yet powerful breastfeeding promoter and patient satisfier in the well newborn nursery too.
Decreased Healthcare Costs
While babies requiring a stay in the NICU are a fraction of the patient population, their care represents a disproportionately large burden in terms of health care dollars. Diagnoses such as NEC are some of the most expensive for both hospitals and insurers.
On average, a case of medical NEC results in $74,004 of additional care and one case of surgical NEC adds $198,040 to the cost of care. It is estimated that $8,167 is saved per NICU infant receiving an exclusive human milk diet (Ganapathy 2012).
It is estimated that for every $1 spent on donor milk $11 to $38 could be saved in health care costs. This includes, among other things, NEC, feeding intolerance, and infection (Wight 2001).
A recent study estimated the national annual burden of suboptimal human milk feeding of just extremely low birth weight babies is $27.1 million of direct medical costs and $1.5 billion in costs attributable to premature death (Colaizy, 2016).