San Juan Regional Medical Center now accepts breast milk donations on behalf of the Human Milk Repository of New Mexico, making Farmington the first donation depot in northern New Mexico.
The repository, located in Albuquerque, is the only milk bank in New Mexico that is accredited by the FDA and the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. It screens, pasteurizes and distributes milk to neonatal intensive care units, labor and delivery units and on an outpatient basis when possible.
In 2019, SJRMC was designated a Baby-Friendly birth facility by Baby-Friendly USA, Inc., a program administered by WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund. The program evaluates a facility’s ability to provide optimal care for mothers an infants through breastfeeding support and bonding opportunities.
Becoming a donation depot is part of the hospital’s ongoing goal of providing comprehensive care for mothers and infants.
Childbirth Unit Assistant Manager Lauren Hardy said updates and improvements to the unit and additional training opportunities for staff allows the unit to keep more premature or sick infants at the hospital for treatment rather than transferring them to larger hospital, which is easier on families who would otherwise have to travel or be away from home for extended periods of time.
The hospital’s childbirth center is currently designated as a Level II Special Care Nursery. A level two facility has pediatric hospitalists, neonatologists and neonatal nurse practitioners, and make the unit suitable to care for infants born at 32 to 35 weeks’ gestation, as well as infants with moderate medical issues who are expected to recover fairly quickly.
A new telemedine cart allows for consultations with neonatologists at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, Hardy said, and upgrades to equipment provides more extensive respiratory support, such as ventilation, for premature infants who need to be stabilized. Additional training opportunities for unit staff has also been a focus.
Becoming a breast milk donation depot aids the hospital’s goal of supporting families and infants in need of extra care.
Premature or sick infants “thrive and grow much better with breast milk than with formula,” Hardy said.
Premature and medically compromised infants may not have access to his or her mother’s breast milk and donated milk can provide important nutrients and antibodies.
The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics support human breast milk as “the optimal nutrition for babies” because it supports growth and development, and provides immunity.
Research shows that breast milk has multiple benefits over formula, such as more support for brain development, higher immunity, lower risk of certain diseases and instances of SIDS and better digestive health. For high-risk infants, these benefits can be lifesaving.
The donation station opened in April and has already received its first donation from SJRMC nurse Miranda Arreola.
Arreola said her daughter recently reached an age where she did not need as much breast milk at day care and she asked Hardy if there was anywhere she could donate surplus milk right as the donation station was established.
“It was great timing,” Arreola said. She spoke about the process to become a donor and the ease of working with the repository.
“I did a phone interview … then I did a online form. I had to report things like medications that I was taking. … Obviously, premature babies can't get the same medications through breast milk that a lot of term babies can,” she explained. “Then I got some lab work done. The closest place to get lab work right now is Durango. … And then as long as the lab work looks good, and mom and baby are healthy, then they clear you to donate. It was a pretty easy process.”
Arreola said her clearance took about one week, but it can be completed in as little as 48 hours.
The repository works to remove barriers from donating by covering the costs of lab work and providing the hospital with a freezer to store breast milk in until it can be transferred to the milk bank.
For lab work, Arreola said the repository is contracted with Labcorp in Durango. A representative of the repository said they hope to establish a contract with a Farmington lab in the future to make the process even easier.
After working with the repository to become a donor, Arreola said, “They're very passionate and have personal experience with children that need that support. It's been a great partnership.”
Once a donor is approved by HMRNM, she may donate breast milk through the hospital. Hardy said they currently accept donations several days a week, and they plan to adapt those hours as needed as the service is utilized more often.
Donors should date milk when it is collected, freeze the milk, then transport it to the hospital frozen. The hospital stores donated milk on-site until it is transferred to the repository. Donated milk should be frozen less than six months. Only milk frozen after being approved by HMRNM may be donated.
In addition to improvements to the nursery and establishing the donation depot, the hospital offers a variety of educational and support services for breastfeeding mothers.
The hospital’s breastfeeding support team assist mothers with addressing any breastfeeding challenges experienced while in the hospital and offers preparatory educational classes before childbirth. Lactation consultants are available to mothers while they are patients and after they leave the hospital as well.
Arreola is preparing to transition from her working as a nurse in the childbirth unit to a position as a lactation consultant.
Breastfeeding consultations are a free service provided to area mothers, and are offered by phone or as in-person visits. Mothers in need of breastfeeding support may call the lactation team at (505) 609-6484.
To become a breast milk donor, visit www.mothersmilkbanknm.org.