FAST FACTS: Miracle Milk™

In the context of thousands of years of human existence, human milk is ordinary just like blood or eyes are ordinary. It is only when human milk is absent, however, that it dawns on us that human milk is extraordinary human milk. Nowhere is this more true than in the context of premature birth, or newborn disease.  When a 2 lb baby is fighting for his life, human milk becomes more than ordinary . . . for sick and fragile babies, human milk is truly Miracle Milk™.  Join the 1st Mother’s Day Miracle Milk Stroll to raise awareness of the life-saving power of human milk in the NICU!  Help us get more miracle milk to more babies in the NICU.  Here are some “fast facts” about Miracle Milk™:


  • Prematurity is the #1 killer of newborns (not including congenital malformations). 1 in 9 babies is born preterm (before 37 weeks) in the U.S., and 1 in 12 in Canada, i.e. 530,000 babies per year.  The U.S. has the highest prematurity rate of the largest industrialized nations, and is in the top 10 overall (along with Bangladesh and Indonesia) Worldwide, 15 million babies are born preterm. African American mothers are more likely to have preterm infants than any other ethnicity, the infant mortality rate among black infants in the U.S. is 2.4 times higher than that of white infants, primarily due to preterm birth. In Canada, the aboriginal preterm birth rate is as much as 1.8 times higher.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics position on donor milk for preterm infants: “the potent benefits of human milk are such that all preterm infants should receive human milk . . . . If mother’s own milk is unavailable despite significant lactation support, pasteurized donor milk should be used.”  The Canadian Pediatric society says that “human breast milk provides a bioactive matrix of benefits that cannot be replicated by any other source of nutrition.” Both the  AAP and CPS clearly recognize the life-saving power of donor milk for preterm babies.  For premature, sick and fragile babies, human milk is truly “Miracle Milk™”.  
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the #2 killer of premature babies and the #10 killer of all babies. The use of an all human milk diet can lower the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) by 79%. NEC sickens 5,000 U.S. and Canadian premature babies per year, of which roughly 500 die from the disease.  NEC is an excruciatingly painful bowel disease which can cause parts of the intestines to die (necrosis) and need to be surgically removed.

o    One NEC surgery can cost $200,000; multiple surgeries, organ failure, and lengthy NICU stays may be required, lifelong complications and treatment may cost over  $1,000,000 per individual..

o    Compare: the cost of exclusive donor milk is typically between $700 and $2,000 per month.   (A two-pound premature baby may consume approximately 5.5 ounces per day.)  Mothers who can express some milk use less donor milk so incur far lower costs.

  • spatzquoteHuman milk also lowers the risk of late-onset sepsis (blood infections after the first week of life) and other illnesses that premature babies are susceptible to and breastfeeding or pumping speeds recovery for the mother.  Every 10 milliliters of human milk per kilogram (i.e. 0.15 ounces/pound) that a very low birth weight infant received during the first 28 days of life decreased the odds of sepsis by almost 20 percent!  Human milk is dose-dependent; any amount improves health, but the more, the better; an exclusive human milk diet has the greatest impact.
  • Donor milk can be critical in filling the gap until the mother’s milk increases in volume. Mothers who deliver early or have complications in labor experience tremendous stress and may not be able to produce milk right away for their babies despite good lactation support.  Babies may be intubated or too fragile to latch on and nurse right away (though some premature babies CAN latch on and breastfeed).
  • Yet, nearly 60% of all NICUs are not using ANY donor milk.  
  • Some NICUs do not even offer mothers of preterm babies lactation support or breast pumps, for fear of putting pressure (or guilt) on mothers who are already under stress.  However, most moms who learn that the life-saving power of breastmilk is truly like medicine for their babies are eager to breastfeed or pump. African-American mothers face greater barriers to pumping and breastfeeding and deserve culturally-appropriate support.
  • Lactation consultants (IBCLCs), peer counseling and mother-to-mother support have been shown to improve the rate of breastfeeding or pumping in the NICU.  Mother-to-mother support is directly related to increased duration of pumping in the African American community.
  • Many NICU medical directors, parents and insurance companies lack knowledge of the existence, accessibility, safety, cost-savings, and especially, LIFE-SAVING POWER of donor milk. Too many clinicians are not prioritizing human milk as a life-saving intervention which is as critical as a ventilator.  The fact that 9 of the top 10 children’s hospitals are using it in the NICU should encourage other NICUs to follow suit!
  • Donor milk suitable for use in the NICU comes from milk banks and is screened, tested and processed rigorously, just like donor blood.  In fact, at least two blood banks (one in the U.S., one in Canada) are considering opening milk banks to meet the needs of NICU babies.  
  • Very low birthweight (<1500g/3.3 pounds) babies may require the addition of a fortifier to their diet. Fortifiers add extra protein, minerals and calories to help very premature babies grow.  There are two types of fortifier: human-milk derived fortifier (only available as a commercial product in the U.S.) and non-human milk-derived fortifier.  There is not enough research on health outcome differences when adding one or the other to breast milk; however, evidence is mounting that if a fortifier is required, human-milk-derived fortifier produces better results, and that non-human-milk derived fortifiers may increase a fragile premature infant’s risk of developing NEC.  More independent, non-industry research is desperately needed!  Before adding a fortifier, it is urged that health-care providers read Breastfeeding the Premature Baby.
  • Best for Babes supports the non-profit milk banks as the most financially sustainable and ethical source of donor milk for premature babies. HMBANA nonprofit milk banks dispensed 3 million ounces of milk in 2013, meeting demand from US NICUs currently using donor milk.  However, if every NICU followed the AAP recommendation (60% do not!), 9 million ounces of human milk from the mother or by donor milk would be needed every year.  Donor human milk is currently dispensed to NICUs in every state in the U.S., however if more milk banks and drop-off locations were established, shipping costs could be lowered.  All premature, sick and fragile babies deserve better and more affordable access to donor milk from a human milk bank, which is why we created the Miracle Milk Mother’s Day Stroll.

Reading Resources

March of Dimes
You think donor milk is expensive?  Wait until you see the alternative. 
How to get donor milk from a HMBANA milk bank.   
Breastfeeding the Premature Baby
Booby Traps in the NICU
How to Beat the Booby Traps in the NICU
Do Preemies Really Need Formula for Adequate Growth?
The Best Children’s Hospitals Use Donor Milk

 Peer Reviewed Articles/Resources

AAP Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk
Unicef: Donor Breast Milk vs. Infant Formula: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Pasteurized Human Donor Milk Use Among U.S. Level 3 NICUs
Impact of early human milk on sepsis and health-care costs in very low birth weight infants
Impact of necrotizing enterocolitis on length of stay and hospital charges in very low birth weight infants


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Presenting Sponsors

As the first herbal personal care and supplement line specifically designed for pregnant and breastfeeding women, Motherlove has led the holistic body care industry since its conception in 1990. Our dedication to consistent quality means crafting only the finest, purest products, and using certified organic ingredients designed to nurture, soothe and heal women on their all-important journey of nurturing life. Each of our formulas are time proven and backed with integrity, wisdom and an intimate knowledge of herbal remedies. 
Limerick logo comfortable2014 In 1992 Patricia Kelly a Registered Dietitian and Joan Ortiz a Registered Nurse (mother & daughter) founded Limerick Inc. The two were certified as Lactation Consultants in 1992.  The Limerick Workplace Lactation Program was created to help working mothers reach their breastfeeding goals.  Based on their work with thousands of mothers, Patricia and Joan developed the PJ’s Comfort electric breast pump incorporating the ideas gathered from working mothers.

Special thanks to Jennifer Canvasser, Jodine Chase, Kathleen Marinelli, and Kim Updegrove for reviewing this fact sheet.


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