More Than Milk: Upgrades Mean Donor Bank Can Provide New Services

Jul 20, 2017

Indiana’s only donor breast milk bank is growing and expanding its services to new mothers. The Milk Bank, based in Indianapolis, collects, processes and distributes breast milk to mothers unable to produce sufficient milk to feed their infants.  

The Milk Bank dispenses an average 27,000 ounces of milk every month and operates satellite “milk depot sites” in four different states.The bank screens and collects milk from donor mothers, prepares it and distributes it, both through hospital partnerships and private donations. (A mom needs a prescription to receive donated breast milk.)

Now, with new equipment increasing its production efficiency, the bank can focus on providing other support to moms and infants in need.

“We love our dispenser!”

The bank recently received $20,000 worth of shiny new equipment, which Production Director Jami Martin says will help free up time and energy from staff.

For years, workers at the Indianapolis bank poured, mixed and capped the milk by hand, says Martin—and it required an enormous amount of time and effort.

In addition to their existing pasteurizer—which is adored by the staff (“we call her Patsy,” says Martin), the bank recently bought a homogenizer that mixes milk so it doesn’t separate in a bottle.

The bank also bought an automatic dispenser—created exclusively for milk banks—to pour milk into bottles, as well as a capper and a sealer, which places a foil seal on top of the bottles.

“It looks just like a ketchup top,” Martin says.

In the near future, a new tool—a nutritional analyzer—will arrive at the Indianapolis location. The analyzer can indicate, for example, how much protein is in a milk donation or how many calories it has. If the calorie count is on the low side, the Milk Bank can mix it with a higher-calorie donation to hit the recommended 20-calories-per ounce mark.

“Anything that helps up production and get milks out the door is a benefit to us,” she says. According to Martin, the new equipment means the bank can produce anywhere from 600 to 700 bottles of milk per day.

A Coach and a Cheerleader

Milk Bank lactation specialist Sarah Long says this year, the bank is expanding access to lactation services—basically providing breast-feeding personal trainers—as a way to give back to a community that’s donated so much of its time and milk.

Thanks to the internet, available information on breastfeeding is more comprehensive than in the past, but sometimes new breastfeeding moms need help figuring it out. After giving birth, hospital staffers give mothers a rundown of the basics, but certain people need more coaching, Long says.

“We want to make sure everybody has access [to information]” says Long. “There are so many barriers—we just need to make sure these families are getting the right information—no matter where you live.”

Long says just having another woman nearby can help moms get through a sometimes-stressful process.

“Sometimes it’s just being a cheerleader,” she says.

Women can meet with one of the bank’s three certified lactation consultants. Milk Bank staffers say eventually they would also like to start lactation support groups. As of now, the free consulting is by appointment-only.

And while helping mothers learn to breastfeed might help add stock to the bank, Long says that’s just a nice bonus.

“That wasn’t in the front of our mind,” she says. “We just wanted to expand what we were already doing.”

A Priceless Connection

Since 2014, the Milk Bank has been working with hospitals in and around Indiana to offer courses on bereavement donation. Duncan says the programs has recently jumped across state lines—they’ve recently expanded it to southern Illinois.

When a mother gives birth, her body starts making hormones that aid in milk production. That situation can be especially devastating for mothers whose baby dies shortly after being born.

“We are working with nurses, social workers, anyone who really is going to have contact with these moms who have experienced a loss,” says Lauren Duncan, donor mother coordinator. “It’s a way it’s teaching them how to work with these moms.”

Through the courses, hospitals can reach out to bereaved mothers and let them know about the option to donate their milk. Some mothers donate choose to donate milk they’ve already pumped and stored. Others continue to produce and donate milk even after the loss of a baby.

“They don’t have a baby here with them—they’re still a mom,” says Duncan. “This provides them a way to honor their baby’s life—no matter how long or short it was.”

The first week in August marks World Breastfeeding Month and The Milk Bank will be holding events throughout Indiana.

This story was produced by a partnership between Indiana Public Broadcasting and Side Effects Public Media, a reporting collaborative focused on public health.