Kenton’s Place: Working Toward a Local Breast Milk Bank
By: Jan Carroll
When Misty Penigar’s son Kenton was stillborn via emergency C-section in March of 2014, it changed Misty’s life forever. In the weeks immediately after the loss or her son, she recognized a need for local support for those who’ve lost a child. She also saw another need in the community. While pregnant, she had been planning to not only breastfeed her baby but to also donate milk to other babies when her baby had finished nursing. She found therewas a lack of both types of organizations locally. So, she decided to create an organization that would both facilitate the donation of breast milk to babies who need it and also provide comfort and support to parents who have lost a child. “I don’t want anyone to feel alone when they lose a baby,” Penigar said. Kenton’s Place sends someone to be at the bedside of a mother who loses a child. They also sometimes will attend funerals of babies lost.
Other support services provided include pregnancy education and counseling, classes on breastfeeding, support groups for post-partum parents and for single parents, and resources and help for those experiencing domestic abuse.
While Kenton’s place currently is providing some support services, it is not providing breast milk, as they are raising funds to purchase equipment and supplies needed in order to open the milk bank, the biggest dollar item being a pasteurization machine. Penigar, a third-generation daycare provider, hopes opening a daycare center at the same location will help fund the milk bank and supportive roles of Kenton’s Place. Penigar is also writing a book about her experience. The group, which currently has several volunteers, is also seeking corporate sponsorship to help cover start-up and operational costs. The goal is to have the milk bank up and running by March of 2017.
Penigar is encouraged in her efforts by the community support she has seen so far. “There has been an unbelievable amount of support, an outpouring of interest in our various services,” she said.
Currently the two closest cities that have milk banks are La Crosse and Wausau. Penigar explains that it is possible for someone in the Chippewa Valley to obtain breast milk from these banks, but a prescription from a doctor is required, and it is a lot of traveling to get the milk or it costs a lot to pay for special refrigerated shipping.
There are online websites that coordinate the unregulated exchange of breast milk through social media. One such website is Human Milk 4 Human Babies. While Penigar understands why some mothers might choose to use such websites to get breast milk, her goal is to create a regulated milk bank where parents all over northern Wisconsin can get milk that has been screened and that they know is safe. “We want to be that safe resource for people,” she says.
La Leche League International, an education and support organization promoting breastfeeding, issued a statement in March of 2011 regarding milk banks. While their primary goal is to help mothers breastfeed their own babies and to express and store their own milk for their own babies, they recognize that “when their own mother’s milk is unavailable, babies may need human milk donated by other mothers. It is essential that this donated milk be safe” (www.llli.org/release/milksharing.html).
The La Leche League statement reiterates the benefitsof breast milk, especially its ability to bolster a baby’s immune system, but it also stresses the risks with obtaining milk from unscreened donors, including “transmission of certain infectious agents, like bacteria or viruses…drugs, possibly some environmental contaminants, and potentially unhygienic storage and handling of unprocessed donated milk.” They urge, instead, obtaining milk from a qualified milk bank. There have also been reported cases of breast milk sold online that has been contaminated with cow’s milk (www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/04/07/397369416/breast-milk-sold-online-contaminated-with-cows-milk).
When up and running, Kenton’s Place milk bank will screen donors. Penigar explains: “Milk would only be accepted from donors who are on medications if those medications were approved by a doctor to be safe for the baby during breastfeeding.” In these cases donated milk would be marked as coming from someone on these approved medications. Milk is screened for a number of health conditions via a test that Penigar says most insurance policies will cover. Results of all screenings will be kept on file.
Donor screening is only one of the four pillars of breast milk donating. Penigar lists the other three pillars as: 1) informed choice, 2) safe handling of the milk, and 3) pasteurization.
Not only mothers of preemies are looking for breast milk. Penigar notes: “If a mother is having a hard time producing enough milk, she should be able to make that decision to continue to give the baby breast milk.” Some women are also enjoying donating milk to banks after their own baby is done nursing.
In 2014, there were at least sixteen American milk banks that distribute about 3 million ounces of breast milk each year (www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2014/11/10/362330539/a-smartphone-gadget-pumps-up-breast-milk-banks). All U.S. nonprofit milk banks (whichKenton’s Place will be) ensure the safety of donated milk by following the guidelines of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, formed in 1985. Their website says, “There has never been a case of disease transmission from the use of pasteurized donor human milk reported in the United States” (http://milkbankwgl.org/parent-info/in-simple-terms/safety/).
Though milk banks are becoming more popular, they have been around in the United States since 1911, when doctors at Boston’s Floating Hospital for Children created a milk bank to help babies survive a diarrheal disease that was a major cause of infant mortality. Since then milk banks have worked to improve infant health and save lives. That goal, along with support for parents who’ve lost a baby, is Misty Penigar’s dream for Kenton’s Place.