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Wyandotte County's new human milk donation site aims to keep at-risk babies healthy

Gary Logan
Mother's Milk Bank of North Texas
The American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC recommend human milk diets for premature babies.

Wyandotte County has a high rate of low birth weight babies. A new milk depot could help get needed breast milk for those cases.

The Wyandotte County Public Health Department is now a drop-off site for human donor milk. It's the fourth such site in the metro area, with one other location in Kansas City, Kansas, and other locations in Shawnee and Lee’s Summit.

Adding a depot was a priority because Wyandotte County has a high rate of low birth weight babies and breast milk is the best option, said Ashley Lause, who manages the health department's Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program.

“The more milk depots we have in Kansas the more milk will be available to Kansas hospitals, so they’re more likely going to get more milk at the hospitals that our clients attend,” Lause said.

State breastfeeding groups have noted a major need for these sites in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. St. Louis has more than half a dozen such sites within 25 miles of downtown, with several more in Jefferson City, Bluff and Hannibal.

Prior to 2023, there was only one depot in Kansas — in Manhattan.

Wyandotte County launched its new depot in partnership with The Milk Bank, which runs depots in several states including Missouri, and now Kansas. According to The Milk Bank, a 100% human milk diet reduces infant mortality by 75%.

Pasteurized human milk is associated with a nearly 20% reduction in the chances of developing sepsis for very low birth weight infants. Among preterm infants who received some of their mother’s milk but required donor milk as well, there was a 22% lower incidence of chronic lung disease.

But recent survey results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that, despite a strong supply, donor milk was unavailable for infants with a very low birth weight at 13% of hospitals with a NICU.

One reason could be access and awareness, something additional milk depots help address. Mary Timmel, the regional advancement coordinator for The Milk Bank, said education and outreach is the most important part of a new site.

“When I encounter parents on the younger end of the spectrum, they already know that this is a thing. They just don't know where to donate,” Timmel said. “So it's fun to talk to your partners in the area who are looking at ways to educate around breastfeeding.”

The Milk Bank focuses on maintaining adequate standards for donor screening and ensuring that any milk obtained is safe for consumption. It pasteurizes, freezes and ships milk out across the country.

While depots don’t approve donors or deal with the milk after donation, they help expedite the process and make it easier for parents to drop off milk rather than pay for shipping or having a milk bank pay for shipping.

Beyond Kansas City and Lee’s Summit, The Milk Bank also opened a location in Vernon County, Missouri. Timmel says they’ll continue to look for ways to bring more milk depots to the region.

“It can be anything from a blood donation center — we work with those across the state — to a lactation space to a county health department,” she said. “We even had a hair salon at one point that was a depot. We are always looking for partners who have the capacity, hours and accessibility to take this on.”

Pre-approved donors can drop off milk at the Wyandotte County Public Health Department WIC office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 3 to 5 p.m.

It is not required to be a Missouri WIC client to donate. People can visit The Milk Bank website to learn more about becoming a human milk donor and the donation process.

As KCUR's health reporter, I cover the Kansas City metro in a way that reflects our expanding understanding of what health means and the ways it touches different communities and different areas in distinct ways. I will provide a platform to amplify ideas and issues often underrepresented in the media and marginalized people and communities in an authentic and honest way that goes beyond the surface of the issues. I will endeavor to find and include in my work local experts and organizations that have their ears to the ground and a beat on the health needs of the community. Reach me at noahtaborda@kcur.org.
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