Human milk fortifier developed to save premature babies

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A new product being used across the country to save the lives of babies born under 2 pounds 2 ounces made from human breast milk. Utah mothers are being asked for their help in this life-saving procedure.

Prolact+H2MF is a human milk fortifier completely derived 100 percent from human milk, according to Prolacta.com, the website for Prolacta Bioscience, the company that invented this product. Prolact+H2MF is a fortifier added to a mother’s milk in order to add additional calories and nutrients essential for premature babies.

Prolacta teamed up with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation to create the Helping Hands Milk Bank. Helping Hands collects milk from mothers who produce excess milk to create the fortifier.

While milk fortifier derived from cows milk has been around since the 1990s, this new fortifier has only been around for a few years, said Scott Estler, CEO of Prolacta Bioscience. He said Prolacta got the idea from the milk fortifiers formula companies have been using for years.

“We thought it was a great idea to develop a milk fortifier developed entirely from human breast milk, rather than cows milk,” Estler said.

One dollar is donated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer foundation for every ounce of milk donated, Estler said. Helpinghandsbank.com said more than $75,000 has been donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation so far.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around 85 percent of Utah women breastfeed their babies. Because of the low rate of cancer, women who smoke or binge drink, and obesity, Utah women are the perfect candidates to donate milk, Prolacta said in a news release.

This fortifier is only used on premature babies that weigh less than 2 pounds 12 ounces, and are typically born between 23 and 30 weeks gestation, Estler said. About 40,000 babies born in the United States each year fall into this category.

“Human milk alone does not have enough calories or protein to help this premature babies grow at the rate they need to,” Estler said. “While human milk contains about 20 calories per ounce, by adding this fortifier, the calorie amount is increased to between 24 and 30 ounces, depending on the infants needs.”

Currently, Prolacta distributes the milk fortifier to around 70 hospitals in 27 states across the country, and the number is quickly growing, Estler said. The Journal of Pediatrics recently published a study that showed this fortifier reduced the chance of a low weight preemie getting Neocrotizing Enterocolitis by 77 percent in comparison of other treatments. This disease is the number one cause of death in these babies, the study stated.

“The medical benefits of this therapy are very clear in the hospitals using it,” Estler said. “Parents are very interested in their children receiving human based treatment.”

For a baby weighing less than 2 pounds 12 ounces, the entire stay in the hospital costs between $300,000 and $700,000. The cost of using this fortifier adds an additional $10,000 for about 60 days of use. However, according to a recent study, by using the fortifier, parents will save around $8,000 in hospital costs because fewer babies get sick or have to have surgery, Estler said.

Estler said Prolacta only sells to hospitals and that the parent doesn’t pay for the antibiotic.

“The hospital pays the bill,” Estler said. “The parents just pay their deductible.”

Health Care providers decide whether or not this fortifier will be used, Estler said.

In order to donate excess breast milk, a mother needs to visit helpinghandsbank.com to find out if she qualifies. If she does, Prolacta arranges for a phlebotomist to visit her home and draw blood to test for a variety of diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and a few other diseases. Once she is approved, she is sent a cooler with instructions on how to ship her breast milk. The mother fills it up and FedEx picks it up, free of charge. There is no age restriction and the average age of a donating mother is the late 20s, Estler said.

Upon receiving the milk, the manufacturing process is extremely vigorous, Estler said. A YouTube video at youtube.com/user/prolactabioscience shows the process of creating the fortifier in detail.

Mothers interested in donating can find out more information from helpinghandsbank.com or prolacta.com.

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