The staff at Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas feels like one big family, and in Allanah’s case, the family ties are real. Her aunt, Shaina, is the Director of Operations. Allanah became interested in the milk bank through this connection, took a job five years ago, and has been a constant in the lab ever since.
As a lab technician, Allanah spends her days processing donor milk. She arrives early in the morning to set out and thaw all the milk for the day, then handles it through each step, including nutritional analysis and pasteurization.
“Team work is super important,” Allanah said of working in the lab. The five lab technicians are together all day, and have developed quite an efficient system. “We can anticipate what the others need before they ask.”
Allanah feels like she is in her element when she’s at work, as she is a detail-oriented person and there are countless important details to consider when processing milk. Rules and regulations are vital in the lab in order to ensure the milk is safe for medically fragile babies.
What may surprise people, Allanah said, is how diverse donors’ milk can be. “It varies so much, from color to smell to consistency,” she said. And, while not visible to the eye, there is variation in nutritional content as well.
Regardless of variety, every single ounce of donor milk can make a difference in babies’ lives. The lab technicians work hard to use this liquid gold to its fullest potential, knowing that even just one ounce can feed three premature infants.
Overall, working at the milk bank is a rewarding experience for Allanah. She enjoys working every day to help others. Not only does milk banking benefit needy infants and their families, she says, but it’s also a great experience for donor moms. “Donor moms do so much for us, and I think we also do something for them by showing them how their hard work pays off,” she said.
For more information about Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas, click here.
Amanda and Allen knew their journey as parents would be unique. In December, their unborn daughter, Abigail, was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. This condition meant the left side of her heart would not form correctly, so blood flow would be affected. Just weeks later, they received a second diagnosis of Trisomy 18 – a condition that causes severe developmental delays and is usually fatal before or soon after birth. With the tragic news they’d received, Amanda and Allen began to prepare for the next steps.
The search began for a way to do good despite the situation. Because of Abi’s chromosomal abnormalities, her organs could not be donated and the family couldn’t participate in research. With no prior knowledge of milk donation, Amanda and Allen learned about the opportunity to make a difference at Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas.
“We wanted Abi’s legacy to be that of helping other babies,” Amanda said. “As an added benefit, milk donation helped me heal emotionally.”
Throughout Amanda’s pregnancy, she and Allen constantly talked to Abi and would feel her kicks. “She was an active baby, and a happy baby I would like to think,” Amanda said. Abi was stillborn on April 5, 2016, which Amanda describes as the happiest and saddest day of their lives.
The family’s donor journey began just after Abigail’s stillbirth. Allen was dubbed the “Milk Master” as he cleaned all pump parts and labeled all the milk bags during their three month donation period. The two of them would then go together to drop off their donations at the nearby depot.
For both Amanda and Allen, milk donation meant creating something good out of the tragedy of losing their baby. “It helped us both work through those early steps of grief,” Amanda said. “It meant a lot to both of us knowing that Abi was part of the reason other little babies were getting nourishment.”
For more information on how to become a donor, click here.
Photo credit: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
What happens when more than 200 moms gather in Fort Worth to celebrate breastfeeding? The result is The Big Latch On, where moms come together and breastfeed their children at the same time. For first time event-goers, visualizing or even participating in this might seem strange. However, with a purpose of raising breastfeeding awareness and acceptance, this community effort suddenly feels warmhearted and empowering.
The Big Latch On is an international event with locations around the world, which is celebrated annually during World Breastfeeding Week. In Fort Worth, the free event is in conjunction with the 5th Annual Family Expo, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, August 6 at Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
“The Big Latch On has become Tarrant County’s signature yearly event that is ‘mother and baby friendly’ by showcasing breastfeeding in public,” Layne Walker, Secretary of Tarrant County Breastfeeding Coalition, said. “It’s a breastfeeding-friendly place for the whole family; a common oddity in our society. The event has helped to open the eyes of the public to view breastfeeding as the norm for nourishing and nurturing our children.”
Participating moms and children will head out to the Botanic Garden lawn at 10:30 a.m. to breastfeed together for one minute. During the 2015 event, 278 children latched at the same time. Over 50 vendors and activities will be located indoors in the Redbud & Oak Hall.
“I see the Tarrant County Breastfeeding Coalition’s Big Latch On event continuing to grow as the annual Tarrant County breastfeeding promotional event for mothers and their families to be celebrated for their choice to provide breastmilk for their babies,” Pat Alridge, Executive Director of Women’s, Infants and Children's Services of JPS Health Network said. “The Big Latch On increases awareness of the challenges mothers face with continuing to breastfeed and provides an opportunity for support, advocacy and acceptance within the community.”
The Big Latch On and Family Expo is hosted by Tarrant County Breastfeeding Coalition, Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas and JPS Health Network. Be sure to RSVP to the event by clicking here and receive event updates and reminders.
Milk banking is an international practice, with mothers all over the world donating their milk to babies in need. With 25 milk banks in North America and several more developing, it takes a lot of coordination to guarantee practices are consistent. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) was established in 1985 as a professional association for supporters of milk banking and as a governing organization for member milk banks.
HMBANA’s mission is “reaching the most vulnerable infants first,” striving to provide safe, pasteurized human donor milk to medically fragile babies. The organization sets guidelines for milk banks to make this possible and performs inspections to ensure that these guidelines are being met.
Having a parent organization such as HMBANA allows for quality communication among American and Canadian milk banks. Milk banking professionals are able to network during a biennial conference, in addition to working with HMBANA year-round.
While much of what HMBANA does relates directly to its member milk banks, the organization also works to promote and support breastfeeding for mothers and babies. Additionally, it advocates for the use of donor human milk and acts as a liaison between member milk banks and governmental regulatory agencies.
“HMBANA acts as a centralized base of knowledge, regulations, and information sharing for member milk banks,” Mary Michael Kelley, Interim Executive Director of HMBANA, said. “We work hard to create a system of inclusivity for our milk banks to ensure they are up to date on the latest information in milk banking, to provide a networking platform, and sustain the future of milk banking through public relations, legislative advocacy, and research.”
HMBANA serves an important purpose in the mission to get donor human milk to babies in need. For more information on our governing organization, click here.
For more information on Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas, click here.
As a donor mom, Jennifer donates breastmilk to Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas in honor of her sons, Zachary and Elijah, and in memory of her son Micah, who passed away at 11 months due to necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). She is also a fierce advocate for those affected by NEC, as she is the founder of the NEC Society. Additionally, she writes for HuffPost Parents, and her articles are occasionally featured on the MMBNT blog. Below is an excerpt from her article about babywearing and the positive experience it created in the NICU with her twins.
My twins' premature birth rocked my world. Micah and Zachary were born at 27 weeks gestation, weighing only two and a half pounds each. As the twins fought to live, our family, friends, neighbors and colleagues surrounded us with love and support.
During the twins' hospitalization, my husband Noah and I received beautiful, generous gifts, one of which changed our family’s life: the skill of babywearing.
Micah and Zachary were nearly three months into their hospitalization when my friend Becca asked if she could visit us in the NICU to show us how to wear our babies in a wrap. I hesitated. Zachary was stable, even though he was connected to lines and monitors, but Micah was struggling just to live after developing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Micah was in renal failure, intubated, and recovering from a major abdominal operation.
I didn’t want to have to answer any of Becca’s questions. I didn’t want Becca to see Micah in such a terrible state of health. I didn’t want to have to explain that Micah might die.
Thankfully, I mustered up some courage and arranged for Becca to visit.
Becca walked into Zachary’s room, her arms overflowing with two wraps, a ring sling, gifts for the boys and food for us. Zachary was tethered to his monitors, snuggled with Noah in a chair. Becca stretched out a rainbow carrier and asked if she could wrap me up with Zachary.
Moments later she began her magic and Zachary was securely wrapped on my chest, just under my chin, leaving my hands free. I stood up, paying attention to Zachary’s cords and wires, and instantly fell in love with babywearing.
With Zachary wrapped on my chest, I reclaimed so much that had been taken away from me just by being in the NICU: the ability to be close to my babies, the ability to care for them, and the feeling of being a competent mother.
I asked Zachary’s nurse if we could walk across the hall to Micah’s room for a visit. Micah and Zachary had been separated since birth, each of them independently too sick to leave their room to visit the other. But now, Zachary was stable, and securely wrapped on my chest. The nurses had never seen one of their patients in a wrap, and inspected Zachary’s airway and lines before they agreed to allow me to carry Zachary into Micah’s room.
For the first time since giving birth, I made physical contact with my twins at the same time. Even though Micah was too sick to be held, I could reach my hands into his isolette and touch his soft skin, while Zachary slept on me. From that moment on, I knew I needed to perfect the art of wrapping my fragile infants so that I could be close to both of them. For months, we had been separated. Babywearing enabled us to reconnect, bond, and nurture one another.