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July 7, 2013

Milk bank offers ill infants a healthy start

NORMAN — Some of the state’s newest and most vulnerable residents are getting a jumpstart thanks to the recently opened Oklahoma Mothers’ Milk Bank in Oklahoma City.

Only the 12th bank in the nation, the human milk bank collects, pasteurizes and distributes breast milk to preterm and critically ill infants in Oklahoma and surrounding states to improve short and long-term health care outcomes.

A total of 13.5 percent (more than one in eight) of babies born in Oklahoma in 2007 were preterm, compared to the national average of 12.7 percent, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Oklahoma Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System. “Preterm” is a birth occurring prior to 37 weeks of gestation.

Preterm infants face an increased risk of lifelong health complications, said Bank Director Keri Hale, and giving these babies human milk as opposed to conventional nutritional substitutes like formula can be a medical game-changer.

“Studies really show that using mom’s milk or pasteurized human donor milk lowers the chances of babies’ developing infections to such a minute amount — that can be life-saving for our infants,” Hale said.

There are several reasons a new mother might not be able to provide milk for a premature or ill infant, including an insufficient supply, illness or use of certain prescription medications. In these events, the bank’s supplies are available by prescription, said Becky Mannel, bank board of directors vice president.

The bank, located in the new Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI) building at 901 N. Lincoln Ave. in Oklahoma City, is fully stocked with equipment to accept and process donations, and closely adheres to safety guidelines set by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA).

Frozen donations are defrosted and then cultured, pasteurized and cultured again before being re-frozen and disseminated to physicians. During cultures, Hale said they look for excessive bacteria growth that could become pathogens. If found, these donations are discarded.

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