Town Talk Features

Feeding the Future

Each fall, proceeds from the Glennon Card fundraising program support a different initiative benefiting young patients at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Whether it’s through new diagnostic technology, surgical advancements or other innovations, the goal is to provide kids with the latest in compassionate care. This year, the program supports the outfitting of a Milk Lab to help babies get the greatest possible benefit from breast milk and formula.

Clinical dietitian Rita Chrivia says staff members at the hospital’s Dana Brown Neonatal Intensive Care Unit are excited about the new lab because of its potential to help preterm infants. “Currently, most feedings are prepared by a nurse at the mother’s bedside,” she explains. “Because premature babies are born before they have a chance to develop fully, it’s especially important for them to receive proper nutrients.” The Milk Lab will be staffed by technicians who can analyze pumped breast milk and fortify it with nutrients when needed. Chrivia says the lab’s state-of-the-art technology will save nurses a great deal of time and effort so they can serve patients in other ways.

She adds that all babies have unique needs, and the Milk Lab will allow Glennon staff to optimize their nutrition in new ways. There will be special equipment like centrifuges to separate out the components of milk for infants who can’t tolerate high fat content. “We also hope to add a management system that tracks each mother’s milk inventory and warns the staff if it is running low,” Chrivia says. “Feedings will be barcoded so nurses know when the milk is fortified and ready to use.”

She notes that in some respects, a mother’s breast milk is specially designed by her body for her baby. “The milk contains antibodies appropriate for whatever she has been exposed to, and that protection is passed to her child,” she says. “It really is a living fluid. Colostrum-rich milk from a mother who has just given birth is a deep yellow color because of the carotenoids it contains. We call it ‘liquid gold’ because it is so important for the infant’s early development and immunity.”

According to Chrivia, the Milk Lab will benefit other Glennon babies as well, not just premature ones. And in cases where mothers are unable to breastfeed, the lab will provide donor milk or formula. “Preterm infants seem to be getting smaller and sicker, but because of medical advancements, they also are surviving in many situations where they didn’t used to,” she says. “Feedings may have become more complicated, but it’s gratifying to know that we can help these babies more than ever before. Once our Glennon Card funding is in place, we can start construction of the Milk Lab, a very exciting development. One of our doctors referred to it as a ‘nutrition pharmacy’ for babies, and it really is.”

Photo courtesy of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital