Milk Banks: Community Generosity Saves Lives
During National Prematurity Awareness month, a panel of community experts discussed how donor human milk is a lifeline for premature babies and can close the racial equity gap for babies of color.
The conversation was part of the I Am New Orleans conversation series focused on issues of racial equity.
The Mother’s Milk Bank of Louisiana at Ochsner Baptist Hospital is the only human milk bank in the state and serves all its pre-term babies. Medical Director Dr. Harley G. Ginsberg says human donor milk is the best medicine for pre-mature babies who need to “grow up” and “grow through” health complications caused by their prematurity.
The benefit of donated human milk is that pre-term babies are healthier, their hospital stays are shorter and the costs associated with their prematurity, such as medical costs and long-term health and development delays, are considerably less. “Everybody wins,” Ginsberg says.
About 90% of the donors at the Mother’s Milk Bank of Louisiana are White, yet most donor milk is received by Black and Brown infants. Dr. Shelley Thibeau, director of the milk bank and a panelist on Milk banks: community generosity saves lives, said the fat content and caloric count in milk from Black and Brown mothers is higher and more beneficial for pre-term babies.
We must break cultural and societal norms that make it difficult for mothers, especially those of color, to breastfeed their babies.
“As a mom of six kids I did spend some time in the NICU,” said panelist Kinda Andrews Saunders. “While breastfeeding can be challenging for any mother, I was fortunate to have a Black nurse that was very hands on. She assisted me with great care and connected so well. It felt more personal, and we need more advocates like her for mothers at all levels. Supporting mothers, especially Black and Brown moms, is something that we must continue to advocate for in our community. Anything less is unacceptable.”
Mothers of color need more support from their families, communities and workplaces to breastfeed and pump. For working mothers, some of whom return to work weeks after giving birth, it especially important that employers create an environment where woman of color are given breaks and private spaces to pump.
For mothers who can donate breast milk – especially those of color – learn how to donate to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Louisiana at ochsner.org/mothersmilkbank.