Having a Human Milk-Based Fortifier Would Have Made My Preemie’s Life So Much Better – Jenny McCormick

Having a Human Milk-Based Fortifier Would Have Made My Preemie’s Life So Much Better

Jenny Reyes-McCormick, Micro-Preemie Mom, Editor-in-Chief of PreemieWorld (photo credit: David McCormick)

An ambulance ride to the nearest hospital and an emergency c-section later, on May 31, 2012, my son, Joshua was born at 26-weeks’ gestation, weighing just 2 pounds. Naturally, my biggest concern was how to help my fragile baby boy thrive.

Feeling incredibly helpless knowing that this fight was all on my son, all I could do was sit helplessly on the sidelines and wait – I began to research as much as I could…I NEEDED to know how I could help Joshua not only survive but thrive. I learned that:

  • Premature babies need more protein for growth than full-term babies.
  • Colostrum has more protein than the colostrum of full-term birthing mothers.
  • Breastmilk also has more of an enzyme called lysozyme which attacks certain bacteria and helps protect your baby from infections.

Finally! Something I could do to help my Joshua fight! As soon as I could, I began to pump breast milk. I became a pumping machine at all hours. When Joshua was given my milk, I was so proud because I knew my milk was helping Joshua’s body fight the odds.

However, at one point, Joshua’s team wanted Joshua to gain more weight and told me that they needed to supplement my milk with bovine-based formula. I was completely against it! After researching the negative possible outcomes of providing formula to a preemie, I talked to the team and inquired about other possible avenues. They informed me that this was the normal protocol for preemies – never once did they tell me that there was another option – a MUCH healthier option.

Donated human milk was never something my team talked about with me.  As much as I knew I had a great team, I felt pressured to provide Joshua with bovine-based formula because he needed to reach a certain weight to thrive. I gave in – they are the professionals after all, and I had no choice but to trust that they were doing the right thing for my child.  Looking back, I was afraid to cause waves. I was afraid to go against protocol.  I was afraid that my knowledge was too limited, and I was afraid to put my son in jeopardy. Oh, how I wish I knew then what I know now, and I would’ve been an even stronger advocate. I would’ve been better equipped to fight for my son with more knowledge under my belt.  Then I thought about the many preemie mothers who are unable to provide their breast milk due to stress, complications and many other factors.  With all the research available, I’m at a loss as to why breast milk isn’t the norm for preemies in the NICU. I will always recall Joshua’s team telling me that bovine-based formula is “the normal protocol for preemies.” This needs to change! Breast milk is best. THIS needs to be the new standard. NICU families DESERVE this option. Our struggling preemies DESERVE this option.

I am grateful to organizations like Prolacta Bioscience – as they trailblaze and continue steadfast in their mission to help NICU babies thrive. As a preemie mom, I am grateful for the journey that helped me find my voice to support other families struggling with these issues.

Thankfully, Joshua didn’t develop any major infections from the formula, but I will say, not only did he come home on a gastrostomy tube, but he also developed severe acid reflux and stomach issues that lasted years post his NICU stay. I do believe that had a lot to do with the added bovine-based diet that was implemented. He struggled so much early on.

Lesson learned. Let’s continue to raise our voices and help families know that there isn’t just one “normal protocol” when it comes to helping our preemies thrive. Advocate. Advocate. Advocate.