Local hospitals open 'Milk Labs' to improve breast feeding rates

News 12 First at Five/ Aug. 18, 2014


AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW)-- Georgia has some of the lowest breast feeding rates in the country, but local hospitals are working to change that.

GRU has had a breast milk lab for 3 years now, helping encourage mothers to breast feed and shipping in donor milk for those moms who can't. Now University Hospital is also starting a milk lab to keep babies healthy.

Jennifer McGahee is the proud new mom of not one, not two, but three little girls.

"I was just grateful I was lying down for the ultrasound. My poor husband was not. He lost all color in his face," she said.

The trio came early at 27 weeks. It was too early for their mom to produce enough milk, so GRU provided them with donor milk to help them get healthy.

"Their systems were so immature and so tiny when they were born that the donor milk was incredibly important for them because with the formula, they just would not have been able to process it as well. They would not have been able to grow at the rate they've been able to grow," McGahee explains.

The donor breast milk comes from special milk banks that collect milk from healthy moms. It's pre-screened, pasteurized, and shipped frozen.

Once it's shipped here, the milk is stored in freezers at GRU, and used as needed for their smallest patients.

"Our goal was to provide human milk to all our extremely ill babies. By doing so, we have now promoted almost 100% human milk feeding in the low birth weight babies," Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, a neonatologist at GRU, said.

Amy Gates, a Pediatric Nutrition Specialist at GRU, helped start the first regional milk lab at GRU three years ago.

"We've been able to go to other units and kind of help facilitate the beginning of milk labs in other areas, so it's really exciting," she said.

University Hospital is also in the process of getting a milk lab. They hope to have it up and running by the end of the year.

"Breast milk is the original organic food. It's the gold standard for infant nutrition. It has a ton of antibodies to help prevent illness with infants," Haley Jones, a lactation consultant at University said.

Brandi Jackson just had twin girls that are still in the NICU at University. She's thankful she's been able to provide breast milk for them both.

"It's very important because I think breast milk is the best. I wouldn't want to try anything else," she said. "A baby was born to breast feed, so it would help other mothers."

She says the milk lab at University will be a natural fit.

Dr. Bhatia with GRU says the closest milk bank is in Raleigh. They have to ship the milk in from there. GRU hopes to get the funding to start a milk bank here at home, to help provide more hospitals in the area with human milk for babies.

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