There's a growing demand for breast milk, especially in hospital neonatal units across the country. It's predominantly for premature babies. Now new mothers in the River Valley area are able to help by donating their extra breast milk at a new milk depot."It has antioxidants, antibodies, it has everything that babies need for nutrition and it helps them to get better quicker," said Vanessa Martin, a breastfeeding peer counselor at the Van Buren County Health Unit.It's for all of the reasons Martin listed and more that the Van Buren County Health Unit and WIC teamed up with the Mother's Milk Bank of North Texas to begin collecting breast milk donations.Teresa Gates, a registered nurse with the WIC program, said that doctors are opting for natural breast milk over formula for those infants in neonatal care."It's much easier on their digestive system so they don't have as many stomach problems which really preterm infants are prone to have," said Gates.The milk depot is similar to a blood bank, where in folks can donate blood to be used in transfusions. In this case the donors are new mothers, who provide their extra breast milk for when a mother cannot provide their own. In many instances, mothers of prematurely born infants have not begun to lactate and therefore cannot provide breast milk to their own child."Moms go through a screening process, they have to get blood work done - go through questionnaires," said Martin.Once accepted as donors, Martin mentions donors can give as much as they want. It's all stored in freezers and then shipped off to the main milk bank in Dallas where the milk is pasteurized and then distributed to hospitals nationwide."You don't really know who's getting your breast milk when you donate, but you know that it's going to a really sick infant that needs it," said Gates.Arkansas Children's Hospital, UAMS, Baptist and Saint Vincent's Hospitals all use donor milk in their NICUs. The milk depot in Clinton will be the state's second human milk bank, with the other being at Baptist Health Center in Little Rock.
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