Healthy Expectations: Donor breast milk gives local preemies a stronger start

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — Tatiana Sember looks at her son Zachary lovingly, as she strokes his tiny head. She welcomed him on August 5 at 31 weeks. He weighed just two pounds, 14 ounces.

“He’s gaining a lot of weight, which we were all surprised,” she comments.

Sember credits the donor breast milk he has had since day one inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Johnston-Willis Hospital.

“For me to have that backup plan instead of him going to formula is really good for me,” Sember says.

Since July 2015, Johnston-Willis Hospital and Chippenham Hospital have offered donor breast milk to premature infants.

“We are so excited that we have this program,” says Lisa James, the Neonatal Clinical Nurse Educator for both hospitals.

James explains the donor milk comes from a bank at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk. It is screened in several ways, pasteurized and frozen until feeding time.

“We’ve seen really great outcomes with these babies,” James notes.

She says the donor breast milk can help to decrease a preemie’s time in the hospital, infection risks and need for ventilators and intravenous (IV) therapies while increasing neurodevelopment.

There is also greater peace of mind for many mothers, like Elissa Oliveria, whose son Mason arrived early.

“He was on very strict feedings and my milk hadn’t come in yet,” Oliveria remembers. “That was amazing.”

It has also been a gift for Sember.

“I really did not want to put him on the formula this early at all,” she says. “If I didn’t have that, that’s what I would have had to do.”


Sember is now anxiously awaiting the day Zachary can go home.

“I’m gonna love him as much as I can, definitely,” she says with a smile.

James says donor milk has different properties than the mother’s own milk. However, the proteins in it compared to cow’s milk are still gentler and reduce inflammation for these babies who are at a greater risk for intestinal diseases.

If and when a mom’s milk comes in, it can be mixed with the donor milk and potentially can be fed exclusively to the baby.

Numbers from both the March of Dimes and World Health Organization show one in every ten babies is born prematurely, which is before 37 weeks.

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