Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Felo’s Story

As a twin born at 26 weeks, 3 days, weighing just 1lb, 15oz, and facing several severe medical complications, milk recipient baby Rafael “Felo” received 5,514 ounces donor human milk from April until November, 2014. His parents express how grateful they are for generous milk donors who provided lifesaving milk to their son when he had to spend 3.5 months in the NICU after developing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially fatal intestinal disorder.

On August 15, 2013, our twins came into this world at only 26 weeks and 3 days.  Camila “Mila” Jane and Rafael “Felo” Joseph both weighed in at 1 lb 15 oz.   After a few hours in recovery, I wanted to start pumping.  My nurse helped me hand express the first few days until my supply was established enough for pumping.  I knew that breast milk was very important especially for preterm infants.

The babies were doing well considering their early arrival.  But on September 1, 2013, Felo’s small intestine was found to be perforated – it had a hole it in.  He was gravely ill and wasn’t supposed to make it; as just one sign of his stress, his heart rate was well over 250 bpm.  But, after 24 hours, he stabilized and began his recovery.

After two-weeks of not being able to be fed, the team felt Felo was ready to give it a try.  The feeding didn’t go well, and Felo showed signs of a problem; he was moved to an operating room for exploratory surgery, and on September 17, 2013, my sweet boy had nearly 20% of his small intestine removed.  The bowel that remained was not exactly healthy, but the surgeon felt that it could heal with antibiotics. That was yet another sleepless night, as he was very unstable; but, he was born a fighter, and managed to recover again.

We brought the babies home mid-November (one day before my due date).  After a week at home with both babies exclusively on breast milk, I noticed Felo wasn’t growing and he was having increasing difficulty with his feedings.  Felo, unfortunately, was admitted back to the NICU for further observations.  At that point the team thought it was best to try feeding a breast milk substitute, an elemental formula made for babies with feeding issues.  He was doing well for about a week until we got the dreaded news that he had Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC), which is the leading cause of death in preterm infants.  We were devastated.  His bowels were sick, and he was at risk of another perforation and surgery was considered.

At that point, the team decided that it was in Felo’s best interest that we transfer to another NICU for more specialized care.  

We packed up our family, my frozen breast milk, and headed to Houston.  What was supposed to be a 4-week stay turned into 3.5 months.  My frozen stash dwindled and we had to turn to donor milk during our NICU stay. I continued to breastfeed Felo’s twin sister, but I didn’t have enough milk for both of them.

After the hospital made several attempts to transition Felo to formulas, it became apparent that he could only tolerate breast milk.  So on March 17, 2013, we were discharged from the NICU with a central line for a nutritional supplement called Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN), and a prescription for donor human milk.

Felo has been on donor human milk from the milk bank ever since.  This has allowed his gut to continue healing, and his body and brain to grow, while I was able to continue breastfeeding his sister.  We are all forever grateful to the donors and the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin.  Pumping is a true labor of love and your love has saved my son’s life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Never Too Young to Give Back

Dianne Russo, former milk donor and current MMBA ambassador, shares her story about why she chose to donate with her son, Ben, and how becoming a milk donor has enabled her to begin teaching him the importance of giving back at a young age

When I was a high school teacher I loved the feeling of being needed by my students. But after my son was born I became a stay-at-home mom and, suddenly, I was only needed by him. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the best job in the world to care for my child, but I missed the feeling of being needed by people outside of my home. That’s when I came across the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin. The idea that my breast milk could literally save the lives of premature and sick infants was the ultimate reward. And all I had to do was pump a little extra milk each day while my little one was sleeping! Every time I dropped my donations off at the milk bank I would picture little babies drinking my milk and instantly growing bigger and stronger. I’d thank my son for sharing his precious milk so that other babies could live a healthy life just like him. I know that someday he’ll understand.

The day my son was born was, of course, the best day of my life. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was also the scariest. I suddenly felt this tremendous responsibility, not only to take care of this amazing little creature, but also to guide him and teach him well. One of the things I wanted to teach him was the importance of giving to others in need, and in order to do that, I had to make sure I would always lead by example. Now that we are no longer donating milk, Ben and I are finding other ways to do some good. We are working with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training organization to launch a new Moms in Training program in Austin so that moms can get into shape with their little ones in tow and raise money to fight blood cancer. We also continue to volunteer with the milk bank to help get the word out about their incredible work.

People often think that volunteering your time and resources to help others is a selfless act. I disagree. People help others not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes them feel good. It’s actually quite selfish, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I hope that my son will grow up to be even more selfish than I am. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Paying It Forward Through the Generations by Jana Sharpe-Sanders

Jana Sharpe-Sanders has known about the milk bank since she was a young girl. Her father, one of the milk bank’s founders, was a beloved visionary and outstanding neonatologist in Austin. His early death, and that of his wife Diana, was a huge loss to the milk bank and the medical community.  Read Jana’s tribute to her father, the milk bank, and to paying it forward!

The Mothers' Milk Bank of Austin has been a part of my family since day one of its existence. My father, Dr. George Sharpe, Neonatologist and Director of the NICU, was the co-founder of the MMBA with Dr. Sonny Rivera back in 1998.

Dr. George Sharpe
He knew when it first started that it was going to be one of his crowning achievements in life. He believed in breastfeeding so much that when I had my first daughter, Kira, in 2004 and was having problems getting her to latch on, he sent over Lactation Specialist Barbara Wilson-Clay to my apartment as a welcome home gift! Well, she worked miracles and latching was finally a success!

I breastfeed my daughter for 18 wonderful months, but unfortunately was unable to donate to the MMBA due to a lack of excess milk. When my daughter was only 4 months old, my own mother passed away after a long battle with cancer and a short time after that, my milk dried out on one side of my body despite my desperate attempts to keep it going. I only had one side to feed my child from and there was no way that I was going to be able to donate to the MMBA. It was definitely my goal to be able to donate and I definitely felt it was my duty to donate, too. Being the daughter of Dr. George Sharpe, definitely had it's pressures in the breastfeeding world, but he always told me not to worry and if it didn't happen with this child, things could be different future pregnancies. Well, my dad passed away from cancer just 18 months after my mom and he never got to meet my second born daughter, Keelin. It was through my second pregnancy that I became even more determined to be a breastfeeding queen and donor mom on my own. My wish came true and my dad was correct, I had no issues breastfeeding and I had extra milk to spare for the MMBA! I was officially a donor mom! Yeah!!! I knew my dad would have been proud of my efforts regardless of being able to donate, but it definitely felt great to drop off that big pot of “Liquid Gold”, as my dad used to call it, to the MMBA for the first time! Now that my youngest has just entered Kindergarten, I know it is time for me to donate more of my time, money and efforts to helping my father's passion for the milk bank thrive onwards! 
Jana and her husband, Brett Sanders

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Healing through giving

Receiving donated breast milk and dispensing it to save the lives of fragile babies is our mission. Donors report many reasons for their donations, ranging from compassion to insufficient freezer space. For a small but significant group of donors, however, giving followed the loss of their baby.  The Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin recognizes the 1,207 donors who have given in their bereavement since our founding in 1999.

Erin Umberger, milk donor, MMBA ambassador, and mother of milk recipient baby Sarah Rose, shares her personal story about losing her beautiful daughter, and her mission to help save the lives of other babies born too soon and too small.

My precious daughter Sarah Rose was born extremely prematurely, at 23 weeks and 6 days gestation. While in the NICU, I learned how important human milk is for small and sick babies. Initially, I could not produce enough milk for Sarah, so she received milk from donor moms. I am so grateful that those women 
donated their precious milk to help babies like my Sarah.

Sadly, I lost my daughter to necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a degeneration of the intestines that sometimes occurs in preemies. I have since learned that receiving human milk, as opposed to formula, may substantially reduce the risk of getting NEC. I am so glad Sarah had enough milk and therefore was given every chance at life. It is now my mission to make sure that every at-risk baby has access to donor milk. I was glad to be able to donate my excess milk to the Milk Bank as a tribute to my daughter and to help other babies in need.  

Grieving the loss of an infant does not stop lactation – in an often painful reminder of hopes and dreams, the body creates milk after a pregnancy regardless of a stillbirth, or an infant who lives for only a short time, as with Sarah Rose. MMBA created a brochure to help women after a such a devastating loss. "Teardrops and Milkdrops" explains the body’s inability to recognize the loss, the option of stopping milk creation, and the choice of expressing and donating milk to honor the baby lost and to facilitate the grieving process. 

Losing an infant is painful, but milk donors have reported a benefit of donation. As donor Michelle wrote in 2006, “Giving my milk to help babies born too soon was healing for me. It didn't bring back my precious baby, and it didn't erase my pain, but it helped me to have a purpose. I gave milk in honor of my beautiful girl who wouldn't need it, so it was a gift from the two of us to those who would live because of it.” 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Libby & Xzavier's Story

Families needing donor human milk are always in crisis. Always! Imagine if your sick child needed breastmilk, but you didn’t have enough – or any. Fortunately, the founders of the Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin knew a preterm infant’s first foods must not be compromised. Drs. George Sharpe and Audelio Rivera founded the milk bank to provide donor human milk for babies with a medical need until mom’s own milk became available.

Libby’s story is heartwrenching. Mother of a severely low birthweight infant, she didn’t have enough milk. The milk bank provided donor milk for five weeks until baby Xzavier was mature enough to digest formula. He’s healthy today thanks to our compassionate milk donors and generous financial contributors. Xzavier’s mom shares their story. 

I found out I was pregnant with my second child on Father’s Day 2012. As we each had one child from a previous marriage, my boyfriend and I were thrilled to be adding to our blended family. We enjoyed each moment of the pregnancy; I felt good, ate well, and remained physically active; Baby and I were glowing and growing.

On July 14, 2012, my boyfriend, Gilbert, and I attended a poolside BBQ for a friend’s birthday in the Arboretum area of Austin. The host’s house featured a pool outlined by a wooden deck that overlooked a nearby ravine. We had just arrived at the BBQ, and were headed to the food table, when the unimaginable happened…we heard a snap, then the sound of wood breaking, and then we were falling. Gilbert is an officer with APD, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his first responder instinct to grab me and pull me close to him. Due to our combined weight, we fell straight down 20 feet to the ground, versus tumbling out and down as some of the other partygoers did. I was transported to the ER, where I was treated for lacerations, low blood pressure, and a sonogram to make sure Baby was ok. Thankfully I was only 11 weeks along, and Baby was well insulated against the fall.

My pregnancy progressed without further incident. I continued to eat well and stay active; I was gaining a healthy amount of weight and feeling good. We began to make all of the necessary preparations for the arrival of our son; baby showers, registries, painting the nursery, putting together furniture, washing his (little) clothes…I had just started my 29th week and we were giddy with excitement; we only had 10 more weeks until my scheduled C-section!

On Saturday, November 25th I woke up feeling very fatigued and just unsettled. I thought perhaps I had walked too much the day before while attending a Thanksgiving flag football game with friends, so I resolved to take it easy. As they day went on, I began to feel more uneasy, but just thought I was fighting a cold or virus. Around 4 pm I started having (what I thought were) Braxton Hicks contractions. I text my Mom and her friends, who are all medical professionals, asking what they felt like and how long they lasted; I was told I could have a few an hour; I was having them every 10 minutes. Still thinking nothing of it, I left with Gilbert and our two kids as we headed from Buda to San Antonio to take my stepdaughter back to her Mom.  We decided to stop in San Marcos to eat, and I noticed the Braxton Hicks were now coming every 4-5 minutes, so I called my OB’s office, who took a message for the doctor on call. About 20 minutes later he called me back, telling me I needed to get to the hospital ASAP. My hospital of delivery was St. David’s Round Rock, which was easily an hour’s drive from San Marcos, so I began to panic. We rushed back to the house, grabbed what we thought we needed, dropped my stepdaughter off to her Uncle, and called my Mom to come up to the hospital to be with my son.

By the time we arrived at St. David’s, I was 6 cm dilated. We knew our son was coming; it was just a matter of how soon. I was given medication to try to slow my contractions, and a steroid shot to try and give his lungs a little added oomph for when he was born. From there we waited; I was told that as long as my water remained intact, he would stay inside. It was then that I truly learned the meaning of, “every minute counts,” for every minute that my son stayed in my belly was another minute he developed and grew stronger the way he was meant to.

At 5:05 am on Monday, November 26, 2012, my water broke.  Twenty minutes later we welcomed Xzavier Kapono Caraballo to the world. He was born at 29 weeks, 6 days and weighed only 3.41 lbs. The NICU team was on standby, ready to intubate him, but they were pleasantly surprised when he came out bright pink and screaming, needing no help to breath. Being that he was under 30 weeks gestational age, he was transported to St. David’s Main an hour later for proper care. 

Xzavier would spend the first 64 days of his life in the NICU at St. David’s. Since I nursed my first son successfully for a year, I figured nursing Xzavier would be just as easy. I began to pump immediately after delivery, but 3 days later my body was barely producing any milk. For the time, what I was making was more than enough to meet his needs and I even had quite a supply saved up in the NICU fridge as well as my own freezer. However, as he grew and began to eat more, my milk supply did not increase. I was pumping 15-mins on each side, every 2 hours. I was eating oatmeal, drinking teas and dark ale beer, taking fenugreek, drinking a lot of water; you name it, I was doing it, but nothing helped. Perhaps it was the stress of balancing work, my responsibilities at home, the multiple trips to the NICU each day, and having to artificially simulate nursing; whatever the reason, I simply wasn’t able to produce enough milk to feed our son. Thankfully the Milk Bank of Austin was there for us. Xzavier began to receive donor milk at 32 weeks gestational age, and received it until he was transitioned to formula at 37 weeks gestational age.

As Xzavier’s mother, I wanted nothing more than to be able to nurse him, giving him exactly what his little body needed to grow and thrive so he could come home to his family. However, since I was not able to we were, and continue to be, humbled and eternally grateful for the mothers and babies who donated to the Milk Bank so that Xzavier could continue to benefit from donor milk. Born so early, his little system simply would not have been able to handle and digest formula, so donor milk could have, quite literally, saved his life. We still do not know what caused my premature labor and delivery, all tests for infections or disease came back negative for both me and Xzavier. The only thing we can surmise is that the deck fall had somehow affected the stability of my uterus, but that is a best guess; we will truly never know.

 If there was a way for me to give back to those who gave so selflessly to us, I would, but all I can do is raise awareness in hopes of paying it forward to another baby in need. If you are reading this as a mother who is unable to provide milk for her child and relies on donor milk to feed him/her, please know that you are not alone. Do not allow yourself to feel remorse over this; the love and affection you can give to your child are just as important to his/her development, and that you can give in abundance. If you are reading this as a nursing Mother, please consider donating any extra milk you have to the Milk Bank. There is no amount too small or unappreciated; literally every ounce counts.

May blessings be upon you all,


Monday, March 17, 2014

Amplify Austin

Last year Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin raised nearly $25,000 during the inaugural 24-hour Amplify Austin citywide fundraising campaign. This year’s Amplify Austin begins Thursday, March 20, at 6 p.m., and the Milk Bank joins over 400 area non-profit organizations in requesting tax-deductible contributions. By 6 p.m. Friday, we aim to raise $50,000 – all earmarked for our Charitable Care Program. Can we do it? Yes!!! But we need your help.

Your contribution to the Milk Bank via Amplify Austin will be especially valuable to us. First, your gifts can be matched by generous sponsors. Second, we can win hourly $1,000 awards for the most donors and/or most dollars raised – and many of you will be feeding your babies in the middle of the night when other organizations’ donors are asleep!

Here’s how you can help us:

Email all your family and friends. Tell them what the Milk Bank means to you, and what our Charitable Care Program means to families with infants who have a medical need for donor human milk. This is the program that ensures infants in need receive donor human milk regardless of family insurance coverage or financial resources – $50,000 provides more than 11,000 ounces of lifesaving milk.

Contact all of your breastfeeding friends and family members and let them know about our “Night Owl Nursing Challenge.”  We have great prizes every hour from midnight to 5 a.m. Nursing moms (and other “night owls”) will want to be in the drawing for each hour’s prize, so have your phone and credit card handy when you wake up to feed your little ones. Check out some of our prizes:

Who couldn’t use some darling things for the little one?!

How about a night out?

Or a trip with the kids to the Thinkery and Amy’s Ice Cream. They’re both Austin favorites, and they love supporting the Milk Bank’s work.

Spa services, anyone?

And, finally,

We’re grateful to these sponsors, and we’ll be grateful for your support of the Milk Bank’s Charitable Care Program. Let us know when you are up by posting on our Facebook. We’ll be watching, listening, and chatting.

We need you in order to help more babies. Please join us through your donation.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


I have been a lactation consultant in private practice in Austin since 1987, when I was one of the first people in the city to pass the certification examination developed by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners.  As soon as they heard I'd become certified, my own children's pediatricians asked me if I would like to work in their office on an as-needed basis to help mothers who were having breastfeeding problems.  Within a year or two, to make these services more widely available, I nervously paid the rental deposit on a small suite of rooms that would become my first freestanding lactation clinic.  On the day I picked up the key, I remember wondering if I was crazy to be gambling on public acceptance for such a newly minted health care concept.  I don't know how she even heard about the clinic, but I hadn't even finished carrying in all the boxes of supplies when an anxious young mother with an infant in her arms stuck her head in the door, climbed over the clutter, and said:  "Please, can you help us?" 

Since that time, I have worked with hundreds of families who knew that breastfeeding provides the healthiest start for their babies, and who were determined to find the help they needed to succeed. I have also been honored to train other health professionals and to mentor LCs in our community in order to expand the access to care for more nursing mothers.  LCs are supposed to be change agents in our communities.  That call to action led me to serve for 20 years as a volunteer in the state legislature lobbying for breastfeeding rights.  It was also the impetus that motivated me to participate in the founding of the Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin in order to ensure the availability of donor human milk for medically fragile babies.  It's funny though.  Almost 30 years on, I still often find myself defending the need for a profession of lactation consulting.

People ask:  Isn't breastfeeding natural?  Of course. Breastfeeding, like birth, is natural, but we would never expect a woman to give birth alone without skilled support.  For most mothers, breastfeeding has a steep learning curve and even some discomfort during the first few weeks.  Hospital stays are short; when women come home with their new babies, they often feel very alone and confused, especially about whether their baby is getting enough milk.  Families need identifiable resources in the community to answer their questions, help them solve specific problems, and to reassure them that it will get easier.  I think of LCs as "breastfeeding midwives." We help families transition through difficulties to reach their breastfeeding goals.  LCs want to make sure mothers get to the good part, where nursing a baby becomes one of life's sweet pleasures. 

So on this day when we honor LCs, I say thanks to all those in the community who recognize breastfeeding's contributions to the public health and well-being, and thanks to all those wonderful Central Texas families whose lives I've been privileged to impact.

Barbara Wilson-Clay, BSEd, IBCLC, FILCA