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Mother's Milk Bank tops expectations in first year

Baby Kennedy spent five weeks in an incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit and another seven weeks at the hospital. The separation and stress meant breastfeeding was not an option. (Provided by Stephanie Feals)

It's a way for moms who can to help moms who can't: MUSC doctors say around 130 moms all around South Carolina have pledged to donate their extra breast milk since the Mother's Milk Bank of South Carolina opened in April 2015.

"Those women have donated over 50,000 ounces of milk," medical director Dr. Sarah Taylor said.

It's pasteurized and prepared at the bank's North Charleston facility. MUSC biologists test the pasteurized milk to ensure it doesn't have harmful bacteria.

When the bank opened in 2015, organizers were brimming with optimism. Since then, its success has topped expectations.

"At first it was limited to pre-term babies but because so many South Carolina women became donors, we opened up to be able to give milk to any South Carolina hospital that would like donor milk for babies in their hospital," Taylor said.

Doctors call the milk "liquid gold," especially for babies in the hospital.

"Mother's milk especially decreases the risk of lung diseases, increases the survival and decreases length of stay [in the hospital]," Taylor said. "The statistics will show six lives will be saved by donor milk."

Stephanie Feals says her baby Kennedy is perfect as can be.

"She wakes up smiling. It's crazy. She's the sweetest little thing," she said.

But six months ago, Kennedy was fighting for her life.

"She was born at 2 pounds, 2 ounces," her mother said. "She was born at 28 weeks because I developed pre-eclampsia. She developed a form of emphysema that 25 percent of preemies get."

Baby Kennedy spent five weeks in an incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit and another seven weeks at the hospital.

The separation and stress meant breastfeeding was not an option.

"An emergency C-section at 28 weeks; she's born, they take her away. I never saw her," Feals said. "Instead of having all these happy emotions, you have all this fear and terror."

Away from her parents, Kennedy battled. Her mom says she had a secret weapon.

"They said you have to sign a release to say, 'It's okay your baby receives donated milk,'" Feals said. "I thought, 'Of course. Why would I not want her to have something that's going to be really awesome for her? Maybe that's what gave her the edge in the beginning to fight those super tough days."

Today Kennedy coos and kicks.

Her mother sees in her a new appreciation for others.

"We are beyond thankful she has those opportunities," she said.

A healthy baby thanks to many other moms around South Carolina.

"It's really cool there is this option for babies who don't have people who could visit them all the time and provide milk. It's amazing they can still have milk and get the nutrients they need," Feals said.

Dr. Taylor said the Mother's Milk Bank will keep expanding.

"This is making a difference in South Carolina. Children are going to survive in a healthier way," she said.

She said the bank would probably start to allow individual moms to request the milk with an appropriate medical reason this year. She said mothers with adopted children have also requested the donated milk.

Hospitals pay a small processing and shipping fee for the milk, Taylor said. The price is the same throughout South Carolina.

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