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Health Team

WakeMed breast milk bank running critically low

Posted January 28, 2011 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2011 2:57 p.m. EST

— The breast milk that 1-month-old Annabelle gets is packed with antibodies and growth hormones. But the milk doesn't come from her mother. It is from breast milk donors. 

A few years ago, after testing positive for the breast cancer gene BRCA-2, Annabelle's mother, Patricia Sheff, had a double mastectomy.

She found out that WakeMed Hospital’s Mother's Milk Bank – one of only nine in the country – offered milk to women who can't nurse their own babies. The bank offers the milk only after meeting the needs of premature babies in intensive care units.

Now, the supply at the bank is critically low.

“I am turning away people who would like to have milk for their babies,” milk bank coordinator Susan Evans said.

In situations like this, Evans said, she refers many parents to other milk banks in the country. The group also puts out a call to their usual donors, like Holly Tibbo-Valeriote.

“I’m able to nurse, and I know that some moms can’t, so it was my way of giving back,” Tibbo-Valeriote said.

Tibbo-Valeriote’s daughter spent her first days in intensive care. She could nurse her daughter, but had an oversupply of milk that she knew could help other preemies and babies like Annabelle.

“Annabelle has a shot at, you know, just being as healthy as she can be,” Sheff said.

Donors are medically screened, and their milk is carefully homogenized with other donors' milk, pasteurized and stored until needed. They can personally deliver their milk or ship it in packaged coolers.

“Those little babies are so tiny, and the benefits are so huge,” Tibbo-Valeriote said.