Sunday, November 23, 2008

Powder formula is deadly in the NICU

If you're a mom whose baby spent any time in the NICU after birth, you were probably required to pump so that your baby could have breast milk. Unfortunately, breast milk does not provide the calories and fat that severely preterm babies require. Their nutritional needs are just too great. Babies who spend more than a couple weeks in the NICU will require a human milk fortifier be added to the expressed breast milk. The major formula makers each have their own brand and it comes in a powder packet. It adds calories, protein, calcium and other nutrients that a preemie requires.

There is a real danger in using powder infant formula in the NICU. Powder formula is not sterile, so improper storage or handling can allow a deadly bacteria to breed in the powder. A baby recently died of bacterial meningitis after consuming powder human milk fortifier in the NICU. There appear to have been other cases that resulted in the death of a baby at this same Illinois hospital, as well as 17 other cases across the country.

The mom in the story said she had not been warned of the dangers of powder infant formula for a preemie, although the warning is clear on both Enfamil's and Similac's websites.

I know most people don't expect or think about having a baby in the NICU, but it probably doesn't hurt to do some research, just in case. There are other options besides using formula, including human milk fortifier made from breast milk. The product, Prolacta, is the only HMF made from 100% breast milk. They are always accepting women who want to donate their breast milk to help save the lives of preemies.

This is also another reason why we need a real system of milk banks across the US. If safe human milk was available at a reasonable price, there would be a much smaller market for the formula makers to exploit. The current cost of purchasing breast milk is about $3 per ounce (liquid gold, indeed). If you're able and interested, think about donating your breast milk. You can find out if there is a milk bank in your area here.

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