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Jan 28, 2011 10:28AM

Mother's milk: Abundance of breast milk becomes a gift from one mom to another

By Rita Pearson
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John Greenwood
Kristi VerHeecke and her son, Chase, left, and Stephanie Jacobs and her son, Garrett, have developed a special bond. Ms. VerHeecke nurses her son and provides breast milk for Ms. Jacobs' baby, who has several health issues. The women's husbands are cousins.
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Kristi VerHeecke of Woodhull, Ill., never expected to feed more than one baby with her breast milk whenher son Chase was born in early March of 2010.

Her supply ofmilk was more than adequate for Chase, however, and she soon ran out of freezer space for his milk, the 35-year-old working mom says. Bottles of frozen breast milk started squeezing out the frozen foods at home andat her mother's house. (Chase isKristi and Derek VerHeecke's second child; she also breast-fed son Gavin, now 4.)

Her options, especially after a bout of flu, were to stop nursing altogether and use up what she hadstored or to donate the milk to another baby in need. Breast milk can be stored frozen for up to sixmonths, according to the Mother's Milk Bank at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital website.

Before Ms. VerHeecke gave away her breast milk, however, she offered it to a relative for her newborn. In fact, shepromised to supply the sick newborn for the rest of the year.

Life started with difficulty for GarrettJacobs, son of Adam and Stephanie Jacobs of Orion, Ill. (The babies' dads, Adam Jacobs and DerekVerHeecke, are first cousins, and the couples have been close friends for several years.)

Garrett was born April 30, 2010, with spina bifida and several other medical problems. (A fundraiser for him will be held April 12 at Mulligan's in Coal Valley, Ill.) The Jacobses switched from breast milk to formula after Stephanie stopped producing her own milk during Garrett's prolonged hospital stay.

That's when Kristi decided to offer her breast milk for Garrett.Unsure how receptive the Jacobses would be, the VerHeeckes invited the family to dinner lastsummer and delicately offered their gift if it was wanted.

"We were so excited" with the offer, Stephanie says. "I remember saying, 'You would do that for me?' "

The donated breast milkhelped cut down on the family's mounting expenses for Garrett and provided him the perfect food.The families arranged a milk run every week, meeting halfway between Woodhull and Orion, and fillinga beverage cooler with the stored human milk.

Both babies have thrived under the arrangement.Research indicates that human milk is the perfectfood for infants. Infants on breast milk tend to have fewer ear infections, fewer rashes and allergies, lessdiarrhea and lower hospital admissions rates, according to the Mother's Milk Bank page on the University of IowaHealth Care website.

Donors to the Mother'sMilk Bank of the University of Iowa Children's Hospital must be nonsmoking moms who are not takingmedications or large doses of vitamins or consume alcohol. Donors also are screened and given bloodtests.

Stephanie says they probably would not have accepted breast milk from anyone other than family.

There has been no downside for Kristi, a medical assistant for an East Moline, Ill., family medicalgroup.

"Giving to Iowa City is great, but if you know a neighbor, a relative in need, why not give?" shesays. "Even a couple of bags a week can help."

Kristi followed the same routine for Garrett as she did for her son, Chase. She watchedwhat she ate, did not smoke, drank no alcohol and only took certain pain-killers. Duringworking hours, she retreated to a private room to use a breast pump for 10 minutes at a time, four times aday. Her co-workers supported what she did.

"People are not all blessed the same," Kristi says. "Moms try, but they don't always produceenough. God has blessed me with a wonderful gift."

In addition to theMother's Milk Bank at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital, milk sharing is also available through Eats on Feets, a grassroots mother-to-mother network that has organized online through Facebook. The movement now boasts 110 chapter pages spanning 28 countries. On these pagesmothers can post requests, match up with a donor and work outthe necessary details.

Jennifer Trias of Macomb, Ill., helps run the Illinois Eats on Feets chapter. "It's all about getting human milk to human babies," she says.

For more information, visit uihealthcare.com, click on the UI Children's Hospital link and enter "Mother's Milk Bank" in the search field. Or visit the Eats on Feets pages for Illinois or Iowa on Facebook.


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