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UC Health Milk Bank staff member works with containers of donated human milk

Photo by Erik Jepsen from UC San Diego

August is National Breastfeeding Month, and experts at University of California Health Milk Bank and UC San Diego Health are highlighting the health benefits of breastfeeding, the use of human milk in the hospital and pasteurized donor milk. Experts share that the health benefits of breast milk for both baby and parent are:

  • Reduction in SIDS
  • Fewer infections: ear, respiratory, intestinal, bladder, meningitis
  • Decrease in childhood obesity 
  • Risk reduction for diabetes, celiac disease, even certain types of childhood cancer
  • Risk reduction for metabolic and cardiovascular disease and cancer in the parent

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its recommendation to include six months of exclusive breastfeeding, with continuing breastfeeding through the first two years of life. 

"UC San Diego Health has a 98 percent breastfeeding rate for babies born at our hospitals,” said Piper Sandel, M.D., MPH, pediatrician at UC San Diego Health. “We work closely with a multi-disciplinary team to educate parents and offer robust support to those who choose to breast milk feed, such as lactation services and support groups."

Studies have shown that human milk provides optimal nutrition to the most vulnerable babies.

"Neonatal intensive care units nationwide are providing breast milk to premature and low birth weight infants. We have observed a higher utilization of breast milk, either from the parent or a donor, is transforming the care of our tiniest and most critically ill patients," said Karen Mestan, M.D., chief of the division of Neonatology at UC San Diego Health.

Launched in 2020, the University of California Health Milk Bank, operated by UC San Diego Health, is the first milk bank in the San Diego region, and only the second of its kind in California. The milk bank provides pasteurized donor human milk to hospitals for feeding sick or premature infants and to families at home who wish to provide human milk for their child. Milk is prioritized for babies with medical needs or who are newborns. 

A call to action during the national formula shortage, resulted in the University of California Health Milk Bank seeing a five-fold increase in inquiries to donate. 

"Donating milk to our UC Health Milk Bank will help make sure that it gets to the children who need it most," said Lisa Stellwagen, M.D., executive director of the UC Health Bank and pediatrician at UC San Diego Health. "Families with extra milk are incredibly generous in wanting to take the time to donate and feed the children of others."

Recent financial contributions from San Diego County Supervisors Nathan Fletcher, Terra Lawson-Remer, Nora Vargas and Jim Desmond will assist the University of California Health Milk Bank with increasing production capacity for milk processing, allowing it to serve even more NICUs and families in California. 

UC San Diego Health is a Baby-Friendly hospital, a designation by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund that recognizes hospitals that promote breastfeeding. The Supporting Premature Infant Nutrition Program also helps parents produce sufficient breast milk for their premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit using a team approach.