SARASOTA -- Born three months premature, Carly Yocke's son, Nicholas, started his life this summer in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, being fed through a syringe suspended above him.
Nicholas' feeding tube, monitored constantly by neonatologist Rebecca Levine, allowed the preemie to dine on a nutrient-rich meal of donated breast milk the hospital had purchased from the recently opened Mother's Milk Bank of Florida in Orlando.
But Nicholas, who was still in the neonatal unit Aug. 7, had no idea that while he was being fed July 31 something historic was happening a few floors below him.
Sarasota's Kim Cannon, whose own son, Connor, was born at Sarasota Memorial, was carrying a cooler into the hospital containing the first ever frozen baggies of breast milk, 250 ounces in all, for Sarasota Memorial's first breast milk depot.
"Bringing in my milk today was very special," said Cannon, a working mom in sales who lives in Sarasota with her husband, Matt, and healthy son, Connor, who was born July 6, 2014. "It's just the right thing to do to give back. I don't feel like a superhero or anything but you do what you can."
Cannon's decision to donate began when she was on maternity leave and went to a breast feeding support group called Breast Beginnings.
"The women in there just mentioned you were able to donate breast milk which I did not know," Cannon said. "I was just fortunate enough to produce enough milk for my son as well as a bunch of surplus milk I was able to store in my freezer."
Cannon and Nicholas' mom, Carly Yocke, hugged and cried.
"I feel really happy to help her son, or not her son in particular, but to help any mom like Carly who is unable to produce breast milk to help their babies," Cannon said.
"I'm so grateful that she did this for babies like my son," Yocke said.
SMH's new depot will give approved area moms another location to bring their donated, frozen breast milk before it is sent to Mother's Milk Bank of Florida in Orlando, said Mary O'Connor, manager of Childbirth Education & Lactation Services at Sarasota Memorial.
Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton was the first area hospital to open a milk depot and also sends its milk to Orlando.
In fact, the first shipment any Florida milk depot made to Orlando was made by Manatee Memorial March 17, said Katie Powers, an international board certified lactation consultant and director of Mom's Place at MMH, which is a education and support center for new families.
Before the facility in Orlando opened, local hospitals had to buy breast milk from Texas.
Moms who wish to donate their extra milk must be screened first to see if their milk qualifies.
They are asked to call the Mothers' Milk Bank of Florida at 407-248-5050 or go to milkbankofflorida.org to get the process started, O'Connor said.
"I think it is wonderful Sarasota opened, also," Powers said. "It increases the opportunities for moms to donate their milk."
SMH's Milk Depot will now accept frozen donations daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekends.
Mothers can donate their frozen milk throughout the first year of their child's life, O'Connor said.
There is no cost or compensation to moms to donate the milk. The milk bank sells the milk to hospitals to cover basic costs.
The not-for-profit Milk Bank analyzes the milk of approved donors for calorie and protein content and then pasteurizes it to kill any viruses or bacteria. It then tests the milk to ensure it's free of contaminates before deep freezing and distributing it to hospitalized babies who are in need, O'Connor said.
"They have to do blood tests and have to have authorization from their own physician and their baby's physician that their milk is OK to donate, O'Connon said of donating moms. "Then they will actually pump and collect their milk which they can donate here at Sarasota Memorial.
"We will help moms with the shipping to get it up to Orlando," O'Connor added. "The need for breast milk is great."
When babies are born prematurely mothers can have difficulty in bringing in their own milk because they didn't go through the entire pregnancy themselves and their breasts haven't gotten the benefit of going through a 40-week pregnancy, O'Connor said.
"So, moms who deliver prematurely can have difficulty achieving and maintaining a full milk supply," O'Connor said.
Mother's milk has many benefits for all newborn babies no matter the gestational age, but particularly babies in the intensive care unit who are born prematurely should be fed exclusively mother's milk and if they can't provide it that is what this donor milk is for, Levine said.
Specifically mother's milk protects preemies against an infection in the gut called necrotizing enterocolitis, Levine said.
"And all studies have shown that giving purely breast milk can reduce the risk of this infection which can be fatal in premature infants," Levine said.
Importance of breastfeeding
The importance of breastfeeding and breast milk has entered the public consciousness.
The Manatee County commissioners are proclaiming August as National Breastfeeding Month in Manatee County.
The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County and Manatee Memorial Hospital on Thursday announced a partnership which will begin in late August and will reach out to under-served populations in Manatee County to offer breastfeeding, nutrition training and other services to new mothers.
"Having WIC on site will greatly enhance our hospital's effectiveness to reach out to new moms," said Joseph Hwang, MMH's associate administrator.
DOH-Manatee's Women, Infants and Children division, commonly known as WIC, will staff an office in Manatee Memorial's Family BirthPlace Unit to work with the new mothers, said Larry Leinhauser of DOH-Manatee.
The partnership will feature a certified lactation consultant, Leinhauser said.
"This collaboration is a first of its kind," Leinhauser said. "The new moms will enroll in the WIC program upon delivery of their baby."
Follow-up on the babies will take place at the WIC office at 212 Sixth Ave. E., Bradenton. For details on this program, call 941-741-3400.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.