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Sanford drop-off site a boon for breast milk donors

Sheena Snell, regular Sanford Health breast milk donor, stands for a portrait Friday, July 13, at her home in Fargo. Erin Bormett / Forum News Service1 / 2
About 60 ounces of frozen breast milk sits in bags on a table in Sheena Snell's home Friday, July 13, in Fargo. Snell has donated over 500 ounces to Sanford Health so far. Erin Bormett / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO—Sanford Health's recently opened breast milk collection center is making it much easier for women in the region to donate safe breast milk for the babies of moms unable to produce enough milk to help them thrive.

Southpointe Clinic, working with the Mothers' Milk Bank in Aurora, Colo., began taking donations in May, said Jackee Haak, manager for lactation services.

There is plenty of need.

Sanford has 40 neonatal intensive care unit beds, and "we could have as many as half of those babies needing milk" at any given time, Haak said Friday, July 13.

In a cruel twist, mothers of premature children are often so stressed they can't produce breast milk.

"It's an unfortunate situation. That's when your baby needs it the most," Haak said.

Sheena Snell of Fargo has been one of the biggest donors.

The 29-year-old and her husband had their first child a year ago, and she's had no problem producing more milk than her daughter needs.

The importance of breast milk donation hit home for her when her sister's twins sons were in the NICU in Sioux Falls, S.D. She saw her sister struggle to produce enough milk to feed them.

Snell said the Southpointe drop-off site has made her donations much easier.

Snell has donated at least 522 ounces of milk at the Southpoint site.

"This is something (special), especially when the milk goes to preemies in need. It dawns on a person that this is a big undertaking," Snell said.

One ounce of breast milk a day can feed a premature baby, Snell and Haak said.

"Five hundred ounces. You could affect 500 days of a preemie's life, or 500 babies," Snell said. "I'm very grateful to be blessed to be able to do something like this."

Donated milk from all 50 states goes to the Mothers' Milk Bank, which was established in 1984. There, it is pasteurized, tested and analyzed before it is distributed.

MMB estimates more than 5.5 million ounces of milk has been collected from more than 12,500 donors. It is dispensed to more than 120 hospitals in 35 states.

Women interested in donating milk can fill out the donation screening form at the MMB's website, milkbankcolorado.org, or by calling (303) 869-1888.

Potential donors are sent vials for lab blood draws that are done without charge at Sanford Health. Donors must also get a release form signed by their health care provider. Once all the steps are completed, they can drop off breast milk donations at Southpointe.

"Milk sharing has happened since the beginning of time, but this is the safest way that we have to do it," Haak said. "It is going to the most fragile kids so it has to be the safest."

Like Sanford, Essentia Health also provides donated breast milk to babies that need it. Essentia obtains its milk from MMB and an Iowa milk bank, said Heather Starkey, a nurse and a certified lactation consultant.

Beyond babies in the NICU, breast milk may also go to children dealing with issues like weight loss, low blood sugar or significant jaundice, Starkey said.

"I think it's wonderful. There are so many benefits for human breast milk compared to formula," Starkey said.

"This is not something that's just going in the trash. Every ounce of breast milk, if you're able to donate, is huge," Snell said. "It truly does benefit some of the most vulnerable babies out there."

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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