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

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Power of his Mom's Milk

Calvin's Story
Written by his mother, Faith Galante

I have always acknowledged the benefits of breastfeeding. Growing up with a Lactation Consultant for a mother will do that to you, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to witness them first hand like I did. Twenty weeks into my pregnancy with my brand new husband, an ultrasound revealed a hole in our baby son's stomach. The ultrasound tech handed us off to an OB who could barely pronounce the defect, Gastroschisis.

At a specialist appointment, we learned more about this anomaly that had busted into our lives. Gastroschisis is a rare congenital defect that affects about 1/2,500 births. In the past ten years, the frequency has doubled. I watched the little shadow baby on the screen bopping around my womb without a care in the world, and I also observed the hole in his abdomen that his small intestine had begun to herniate through.

Things began to happen very fast. We were lost in a sea of doctors appointments, surgeon interviews and NICU tours, all the while trying to come to grips that a "normal" birth just was no longer in the cards for us. The plan was for him to be taken early, via c-section, to prevent damage to his exposed intestine. He would be rushed to the NICU and operated on just hours after birth. I found solace in survivor stories on the internet, videos of gastro babies on youtube, and the charity and support group Avery's Angels.

In the beginning of May, we set a date for my planned c-section that would bring Calvin into the world just a few weeks early. His exposed bowel looked good as far as the ultrasounds could tell, and we wanted him to stay put as long as possible considering what was waiting for him after birth. It seems fate had other plans for us.

On May 14th, I woke up with a pit in my stomach. Something was wrong. Calvin wasn't moving. My husband couldn't get a word out of me on the way to our specialist. I was bracing myself for the worst, but a strong heartbeat appeared on the monitor! I felt a wave of relief, but it was short lived. Our specialist came in instantly with a simple "Okay, you're done! How fast can you get to the hospital in Austin?" Not even twenty four hours later I was laying on the operating table watching a troop of neonatal super heroes resuscitate my son.

Calvin was born on May 15th, eight weeks premature, with his small and large intestine and stomach exposed. He inhaled a great deal of meconium and had a heart rate of only 40 bpm. Once they stabilized him, they wheeled this fragile little boy over to me and then took him away.

 Calvin weighed just over three pounds when he was born. In recovery, I couldn't stop shaking so a nurse gave me something to calm my nerves. I remember an on-call surgeon coming in and asking permission to operate. In a haze, I said yes. He returned—in what seemed to be just moments later—and explained that while he was able to get a good deal of his intestines back inside, Calvin was very small and he couldn't close the defect yet. His exposed tummy was hanging above him in a plastic bag so that gravity would slide them back in slowly.

While I was stuck in bed waiting for the okay from the nurses to visit my baby, I was given what every mother in my situation craves—the opportunity to help her baby in a way no surgeon could. I was given a medela pump. I couldn't hold Calvin, I couldn't even see him yet, but I could ensure that he had the nutrition he needed! Within four hours after birth, I had collected over 36 mIs of colostrum! My husband would be walking to the nurse’s station every two hours, each time with a little more milk. I heard the babies crying in the rooms surrounding me. My baby was upstairs hooked to monitors and a ventilator, but what I had was a pump and gosh darn it, I was on a mission to establish my milk supply!

My husband wheeled me up to meet our son ten hours after he was born. Through two locked doors in a tiny warming bed, Calvin was recuperating from major surgery. And he was beautiful. When we left the hospital to drive 45 minutes back home, whatever primal hormone your body releases to keep mothers from leaving their young wrecked me. What kept me sane through all of this was my ability to pump. Even something as simple as that fulfilled me in my time of desperation.

Due to his two surgeries and waiting for his gut to wake up, it was a full two weeks on intravenous nutrition before we could introduce some of my milk. Just 2 cc’s at first, but after a few initial setbacks, the volumes increased, the TPN decreased. Calvin's tiny body began to heal. He astounded the neonatologist’s and the nurses for how well he tolerated his feeds. I'll never forget when he was up to two ounce feedings, I tentatively asked when I could breastfeed. The nurse just looked at me and said "Now." I cried I was so happy! Calvin had been a champion taking bottles, but honestly, whose nipple is really shaped like that? The nurse started walking away to find a nipple shield when suddenly Calvin popped himself on perfectly and started nursing away no problem. The staff was astounded yet again.

A few days later, one neonatologist called to tell me that if Calvin didn't gain enough weight on "just my breast milk", he wanted to introduce Neosure, an infant formula. I couldn't believe it. Not only had Calvin gained weight consistently, but due to his prematurity and damage to his bowel, the chance of necrotizing entercolitis, a devastating intestinal infection, was something like 20% higher if they gave him formula! I was seething. 20% didn't use to seem like a high percentage to me, but since my baby son was born with a defect with a 0.02% likelihood, that seems huge now.

Thankfully my mother has her lactation world "connections". Kim at the Mother's Milk Bank was an absolute godsend! I went there with my mother and, as a favor, was able to have my milk tested. It was 21 calories with a high protein count! Kim sent a copy to the head of the NICU.

After 35 days in the NICU, before he should have even been born, Calvin left the NICU without a drop of formula, and with a special hand crafted belly button. Leaving my baby alone in that hospital every day was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through, but these babies are so strong and have such a will to live—it is truly amazing.

Calvin is such a fighter, and I'm honored to be his Mommy!