Laura Baran fell in love with helping mothers and babies when she became a nurse at AdventHealth for Women in Orlando, Florida, United States. Working on the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) caring for preemies, she learned firsthand how important breastmilk is for infant health and how some mothers struggle to breastfeed.
Baran didn’t have that problem. In fact, she was an over-producer, and after breastfeeding her two boys, was left to figure out what to do with a freezer full of leftover milk.
“I knew exactly where to go,” she said.
She became a donor at Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida, which serves 51 of the state’s NICUs. It’s one of about 30 accredited nonprofit milk banks in North America and the only certified milk bank in Florida.
The availability of donor milk has significantly reduced the number of infants who develop necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a sometimes-fatal gastrointestinal disease that mostly affects premature babies. Up to 17 percent of extremely preterm infants who are fed formula acquire NEC, compared to only 1.5 percent of extremely preterm infants who are fed human milk.
Potential donors provide complete medical and lifestyle histories and undergo blood tests, similar to the screening process used at blood banks. Donated milk is then tested for bacteria and levels of nutrients and pasteurized to kill any bacteria or viruses. Before the pasteurized milk is dispensed, bacteriological testing is done to ensure it meets the highest levels of safety.
Donor milk is only available through a doctor’s prescription. It meets strict screening, processing, and dispensing guidelines established with help from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the blood and tissue industries.
Saving Lives Through Donated Milk
Over the span of four years, Baran donated 37 gallons (140 liters) of breastmilk to Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida. Her milk went to 28 NICUs across the state, including AdventHealth NICUs in Orlando, Celebration, and Tampa.
“Knowing that I was in the unit where some of the milk would go to, that was amazing and that’s what kept me going,” Baran said in a recent interview with WESH-2 News. “And, knowing that my milk was going to these vulnerable babies, and it was doing good, I would have kept going if I could.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America put out an urgent call for breastmilk donors, citing surging demand and dwindling supply. Kandis Natoli, executive director of Mothers’ Milk Bank of Florida and a former nurse, said countless women stepped up to meet that call, including Baran.
“Thirty-seven gallons, 128 ounces to a gallon, and 1 ounce feeds three babies: Do the math,” Natoli said, reflecting on Baran’s incredible donation. “The women who donate to this milk bank are saving lives every day.”