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Release: Aug. 2, 2001

UI Health Care aims to establish state's first milk bank for premature infants

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Many people have donated blood or received a blood donation when in need. A proposed University of Iowa Health Care program will use the basic principle behind blood donation to help hospitalized premature infants get something they really need -- breast milk -- when their mothers are unable to provide it.

Providing mothers' breast milk is the best way to help these fragile babies get the nutrition and disease protection they require to thrive, so a UI Health Care team under the direction of Ekhard Ziegler, M.D., UI professor of pediatrics, is working to establish the Mother's Milk Bank of Iowa. The bank would be the first in the state and one of only six in the nation to provide pasteurized donor human milk to at-risk infants in need.

The milk bank will build on the expertise of the UI's Fomon Infant Nutrition Unit, said Jean Drulis, a UI program associate in pediatrics who is working on funding to get the initiative under way by Jan. 1. Ziegler, who is director of the Fomon Unit and an attending physician in UI Hospitals and Clinics Special Care Nurseries, will be medical director of the milk bank.

"Research in the Fomon Unit has focused on such concerns as growth and iron nutritional status of breast-fed infants and the protein and iron requirements of premature infants," Drulis said. "Premature infants are much smaller and less developed than they were even just a few years ago. While advances in neonatal medicine help these infants survive, providing them appropriate nutrition can be a challenge."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends human milk as the preferred feeding for all infants, especially those who are born premature or sick. Human milk provides developing babies with antibodies and other substances that help protect against disease and infection. Overall, breast milk-fed premature infants are able to leave the hospital earlier than formula-fed premature infants.

Drulis and other UI Health Care staff will host an informational table on the proposed mother's milk bank from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 2 through Tuesday, Aug. 7 in the main lobby of UI Hospitals and Clinics.

The Mother's Milk Bank of Iowa will follow guidelines set by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

"Healthy women who are breastfeeding their own babies but who have additional milk to donate will make contributions to the milk bank on behalf of mothers who have little or no breast milk for their premature newborns," Drulis said. "Just as with blood donors, the milk bank donors will be carefully screened for conditions including HIV and Hepatitis B and C. All the donated milk will be pasteurized and subsequently tested to ensure it is safe for the infants.

"Breast milk donors are not paid, but can have the good feeling that they have contributed to the nutritional welfare of these infants," she added.

Recipients will be charged a small processing fee to cover some of the costs of testing and storing the milk; however, most of the milk bank functions will be supported by private contributions.

Individuals who would like to support the milk bank financially may send their contributions to the Mother's Milk Bank of Iowa Fund, The University of Iowa Foundation, P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, Iowa, 52244-4550.

"The milk bank is an exciting service, and we expect to provide breast milk to approximately 200 premature infants each year at UI Hospitals and Clinics, before expanding the function to include other hospitals in Iowa," Drulis said.

Milk banks already in operation are located in Austin, Texas, Denver, Colo., Newark, Del., Raleigh, N.C., and San Jose, Calif.

For more information, contact Drulis at (319) 356-2652 or

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at