Deborah Acerno with her husband, Tom, and daughter, Adeline
When Deborah Acerno watches her daughter sleep in the Harriet and Ronald Lassin Newborn/Infant Intensive Care Unit (N/IICU) at CHOP, she knows she has done everything possible to restore little Adeline’s health. That includes feeding her breast milk, because for the sickest babies, human milk is more than food — it’s medicine.
A new development at the Hospital allows Acerno to contribute, in an important way, to the health of other babies in the N/IICU. She donates her extra milk to the recently opened Mothers’ Milk Bank, making it available to infants whose mothers cannot produce enough.
Acerno and her husband, Tom, came to the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment at CHOP when they found out their unborn baby had a hole in her diaphragm, a life-threatening birth defect. Adeline was born in the Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit in July and has stayed in the N/IICU ever since.
During her pregnancy, Acerno learned the value of providing her milk from Diane Spatz, PhD, RN-BC, FAAN, director of the Lactation Program at CHOP. Spatz has focused her career on researching and promoting the importance of human milk for all babies and for vulnerable infants in particular. Human milk strengthens an infant’s immune system, boosts development of the digestive system, and results in better neurodevelopmental outcomes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants receive human milk exclusively for their first six months. The benefits of human milk are especially important for infants who are critically ill, recovering from surgery or otherwise at risk.
Acerno saw another benefit. “Breast milk is much easier for Adeline to digest,” she says. “Once she started receiving my milk at about a month old, it made a big difference in how comfortable she was.” Adeline is receiving her mother’s milk exclusively now, and Acerno is producing more than her baby needs. When CHOP opened its Mothers’ Milk Bank in November, Acerno became the first donor mom.
“If another baby can benefit, I want to help,” Acerno says. “It would be a shame if my extra milk went to waste.”
CHOP’s human milk bank, the first in Philadelphia, provides pasteurized donor milk to any Infant hospitalized at the Main Building who needs it. The bank, accredited by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, is the latest development in CHOP’s Lactation Program.
Right now, milk donors are limited to CHOP inpatients’ mothers. Donors, who are not paid, go through a six-step screening to ensure that their milk is safe. Eventually, other mothers will be able to donate. “Our mothers are dedicated to diligently pumping milk for their children, and many families end up with a freezer full of milk that their child will never need,” says Spatz. “Knowing they can make a difference for other vulnerable infants at CHOP is so meaningful.”
CHOP has offered pasteurized donor human milk to hospitalized babies in need since 2006. When patients’ mothers wanted to donate their extra milk — they’ve donated on average more than 22,000 ounces each year — CHOP shipped it to an accredited Ohio milk bank, then purchased pasteurized milk from the bank. Now with the Mothers’ Milk Bank, milk donated at the Hospital stays within the Hospital.
“It’s best if a baby can receive his own mother’s milk,” Spatz says. “Donor milk isn’t a replacement but a bridge to the mom’s own milk. Donor milk is a much better option than any formula. With our own milk bank, mothers can help other babies at CHOP. That’s a powerful motivator to donate.”