Freeman Hospital West’s neonatal intensive care unit received its first delivery of a vital resource for babies on Friday.

Through a partnership with St. Luke’s Heart of America Mother’s Milk Bank in Kansas City, Freeman collected its initial shipment of donor breast milk for use in a new milk bank.

“Donor milk is specially geared to be given to fragile, very premature, very sick babies who are in the NICU,” said Kamal Gurung, a neonatologist at Freeman Health System. “It has been found over years that breast milk, as compared with formula, significantly reduces the amount of infection, significantly reduces the allergy component and reduces the necrotizing enterocolitis that is very common in the premature population.”

Donor milk is used by babies whose mothers are unable to produce breast milk. Gurung said the need for this milk is considerable at the Freeman NICU.

An estimated one-third to one-half of babies in the Freeman NICU, Gurung said, would benefit from donor breast milk. The milk will be used only for babies who require it, which includes babies younger than 32 weeks old and less than 3 pounds. Also, the donor milk will only be used for a certain amount of time.

The milk, donated by a lactating mother, is distributed to babies like a prescription and used according to need.

Donors to the milk bank are not local at this time. Once a donor has been identified, they have to clear several criteria to be determined to be healthy, have no chronic disease, have received no blood product for the past six months, be free of infections like hepatitis B, and submit to other health and lifestyle screenings.

“They donate with a strong desire to help babies who really need this breast milk, especially to our very premature and fragile population that we have in the NICU,” Gurung said.

Freeman Health System on Friday also celebrated Neonatal Nurses Week with cake for nurses and staff in the NICU.

Katie Butler was inspired to become a registered nurse in the Freeman NICU after her son spent time there three years ago.

“Seeing the compassion and care that the nurses give every day, I knew that this is something I wanted to do,” she said.

Butler said she is excited about the opportunities the milk bank gives mothers and their babies.

“It’s wonderful; our babies need this milk,” she said. “This milk is so important for prevention of infection and to help grow in the best possible way. Formula is great, too, but breast milk provides so many great things for their bodies to grow.”

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