1965420_823145687700167_1210488824_oThe Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, a non-profit donor human milk bank, was established in January 2011 with the mission to provide pasteurized donor human milk to premature and low-birth-weight babies in the Wisconsin and Illinois region. Our most fragile babies’ lives rely on human milk. Their sensitive and underdeveloped digestive systems have special feeding needs in which formula feeding may do more harm than good. Infant formula lacks the anti-infective and anti-inflammatory ingredients found in natural human milk that can help prevent intestinal conditions such as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and other long-term health complications that are prevalent in premature babies. Several studies have shown that infants that are born premature who receive even partial human milk feedings leave the hospital earlier and are less likely to develop NEC. Donating breast milk gives lactating mothers an opportunity to use their excess milk supply to save a premature infant’s life, and is also seen as a bereavement strategy for grieving mothers who recently lost their infant.

Jennifer Anderson, a current UIC Maternal and Child Health (MCH) student and Executive Director of the organization, has been growing and managing the extensive network of milk bank supporters and donor milk drop-off centers, or depots, in Wisconsin and Illinois. The organization’s outreach efforts have focused on raising awareness among physicians, nurses, and public health professionals, about ways to incorporate pasteurized donor milk as a standard feeding practice in hospital neonatal intensive care units.

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In January 2014, a group of UIC MCH classmates formed the Associate Board of the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes with the goal of increasing awareness among young professionals and garnering support with regard to the importance of human milk access. Since its inception, the Associate Board has hosted a screening of the documentary “Donor Milk” to bring awareness of the issue, held several fundraising events, and assisted with planning the Mother’s Milk Bank 2014 Race to Save Tiny Lives 5K Run/Walk. The funds raised have directly contributed to opening the milk processing facility in Northern Illinois.

This year, the Associate Board is actively pursuing the establishment of additional milk depots in order to make the donation process easier for mothers living within the city of Chicago. Members are also excited to be assisting with the Inaugural Human Milk Banking Conference, hosted by the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, taking place in November 2015 at the NIU Hoffman Estates Conference Center.

10365315_966815979999803_1042634725965134391_oWe are always seeking new members who are dedicated to providing human milk to the most vulnerable infants in our region. To stay updated on our meetings and events, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Written by Bree Medvedev, MPH in MCH Candidate, and Tamara Kozyckyj, MPH and Maternal and Child Health Program Alum