A new way to enhance preemies’ natural nutrition

When Mackenzie was born prematurely, her mother was determined to give her the breast milk she needed to grow and thrive.

A mother of two boys, Axsa Medrano had some experience with breastfeeding. But the 31-year-old accountant from Queens needed guidance to produce breast milk when her daughter was born last December.

“I didn’t breastfeed much with either of my boys,” Ms. Medrano said. “My milk dried up after just a few weeks for both of them, and I didn’t have the help or education I needed to breastfeed them successfully.”

While Mackenzie stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, Ms. Medrano hoped her daughter would benefit from breastfeeding.

“On the first day, the lactation consultants brought a breast pump to my room and started educating me about how good a mother’s milk is for her baby,” Ms. Medrano said. “I felt like a first-time mom all over again.”

Ms. Medrano learned to pump about every three hours to encourage the production and expression of milk. She also focused on holding her baby and maintaining skin-to-skin contact to promote bonding and milk production.

Making the most of mother’s milk

The lactation team fortified Ms. Medrano’s expressed milk with key nutrients that would strengthen Mackenzie’s immune system and encourage her growth and development. Fortifying breast milk according to each baby’s needs is at the heart of the Cohen Children’s Human Milk Center.

“The Human Milk Center has trained milk technicians who label and store a mother’s milk in a temperature-controlled environment,” said Richard Schanler, MD, director of neonatal services with Northwell Health and Cohen Children’s. “When a feeding order comes in for a baby in the NICU, the technicians bring a certain amount of the milk to the right temperature and mix it with the appropriate amount of fortifier. They then put it in a labelled feeding device, such as a syringe, and deliver it to the baby’s bedside.”

Getting adequate nutrients from a mother’s milk is crucial, especially for babies born ahead of schedule. Premature babies fed with their mother’s milk can better fight off intestinal disorders and infections, such as necrotizing enterocolitis, a common disease in preemies. If a mother cannot pump enough milk for her baby, Human Milk Center technicians may formulate servings with pasteurized donor milk.

“A mother’s milk improves the baby’s ability to withstand respiratory problems, like chronic lung disease, and reduces the incidence of retinopathy of prematurity, the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina that can cause blindness, and improves their development,” said Dr. Schanler.

The Human Milk Center’s streamlined delivery process helps the Cohen Children’s team ensure that infants in the NICU consume their mother’s milk as often as possible.

“In the past, nurses had to spend significant time acquiring and preparing a mother’s milk for her preemie,” said Cynthia Pesce, RN, lactation coordinator at Cohen Children’s. Ms. Pesce is a board-certified lactation consultant recognized by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. “Our system allows nurses to concentrate more on patient care, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Today, Mackenzie is home and getting to know her big brothers. Ms. Medrano still marvels at the support she received from Cohen Children’s lactation consultants.

“The lactation specialists are very knowledgeable, encouraging and uplifting,” Ms. Medrano said. “Thanks to their support, Mackenzie is getting stronger every day.”

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