Women form nonprofit to feed babies in crisis
Published: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 1:48 a.m.
ORLANDO— Amanda Pacheco didn't intend to start a movement.
But in September, when one of her friends died suddenly, leaving behind a 6-week-old baby, Pacheco rallied dozens of breast-feeding moms to donate breast milk to her friend's daughter, baby Sara.
Before long, Pacheco had more donations of breast milk than little baby Sara could use. Orlando moms donated dozens of packets of frozen breast milk. Four local businesses volunteered to serve as drop-off locations and provided freezers to store the milk. One woman drove from North Carolina, delivering a cooler packed with eight gallons of frozen breast milk.
"Right now I have a freezer full of milk," Pacheco said. "And her family has two fridges or freezers full of milk I keep getting more and more donations."
Faced with a dilemma — because frozen breast milk must be used within six months unless it's kept in a deep freezer — Pacheco and a few other Orlando-area moms decided to start a nonprofit that will provide breast milk to needy babies.
"It doesn't last forever," she said. "So now we're in the process of finding other families who need help."
Her new organization, Get PUMPed!, hopes to help babies whose mothers have died, like baby Sara's, or babies whose mothers are sick and cannot breast-feed, such as cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. Other babies who may be eligible for the milk are adopted babies and those in foster care, she said.
Mandy Pacheco knows some people will see her as some kind of breast-feeding nut. But before she gave birth to her daughter, who's now 3, she wasn't even sure she would breast-feed. That is, not until a friend and fellow mom took Pacheco under her wing, sharing information about breast-feeding and giving her books on the subject.
Now, Pacheco — along with organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics — think that breast milk is far superior to cow's milk.
"There are clear advantages to having breast milk over formula," Pacheco said. "If it was all the same, it would be easier to go to the supermarket and buy a can of formula. But when you do the research, you realize how important it is."
Serving on the board of directors are Pacheco and eight other moms. Together, they are trying to create criteria to determine what babies will get priority. Much as with an organ-donor waiting list, babies will be scored according to their need and circumstances.
"We're trying to serve the community in the best way we can," Pacheco said, "by giving to the neediest babies."
The concept of milk banks isn't new. For more than 20 years, a few milk banks around the country have supplied hospital neonatal units with donated breast milk primarily for premature babies, children who've received organ transplants and babies who cannot digest formula.
But there's no human milk bank in Florida. The closest, according to Pauline Sakamoto, president of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, is in North Carolina.
"We're not an official milk bank because milk banks typically work with hospitals for premature babies," Pacheco said. "Our mission is to help families in crisis." Instead, their new organization is what is known as "mother's milk depot," an organization where moms can donate breast milk, which is then given to babies in need.
One of the issues that separates their organization from a milk bank is cost. Milk banks charge between $3 and $5 per ounce and generally provide the milk only to babies whose pediatricians have written a prescription for it. Because the average baby consumes between 20 and 35 ounces each day, Pacheco said, parents would have to pay between $1,800 and $5,250 each month to feed a child, plus overnight shipping costs, because the nearest milk bank is in North Carolina.
Get PUMPed, on the other hand, is "an avenue to someone who wouldn't have that as an option," said vice president Kate Saunders. "There's no way in baby Sara's situation that her father would have been able to get milk from the milk bank."
While milk banks and some milk depots pasteurize their milk, Pacheco and her team plan to screen the donors, asking for lab work to rule out infectious diseases. In addition, donor moms will have to fill out an extensive lifestyle questionnaire.
Sakamoto has advised Pacheco on her new venture, but she still urges the moms to proceed with caution.
"Obviously they're good at what they're doing collecting milk," Sakamoto said."But I'd like to see them work with a milk bank so someone can oversee the cleaning and processing of the milk for them."
Meanwhile, Pacheco is trying to raise money to attend this year's milk banking conference, to learn more about safety issues and the milk-banking business.
"This whole journey has been so amazing," Pacheco said. "Four months ago, I wasn't planning on starting a nonprofit, or becoming a milk facilitator. But it happened, and the community response has been so amazing that it seems silly to let the movement die when clearly there's such a need."