Public Health and Milk Banks

By Deborah Youngblood, PhD, Executive Director

The first week of April is National Public Health Week, a time for everyone to reflect on the importance of healthy communities. Prior to being welcomed as the new leader for Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, I was the Health and Human Services Commissioner for the City of Newton, so public health has long been my focus.

Public health is a big umbrella: basically, if the topic can be connected in any way to people and well-being, then it’s considered part of public health. This is a blessing and a curse. It means there is a multitude of critical subjects, and if we can tap into all the connective fiber, we can effect positive change. It also means there are MANY possible priorities and therefore sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. And I assure you that when you are the Health Commissioner, everyone you talk with is sure they know what your top priority should be.

Protecting lives, promoting health

Providing access to safe, pasteurized donor human milk is unquestionably a public health priority. In public health we always ask who is most vulnerable, who is most at risk? Premature, low birth weight babies most certainly fall into the category of vulnerable and at risk. In public health we also prioritize prevention—how can we keep a problem from happening in the first place? When donor milk is provided to premature, low birth weight infants, we greatly reduce the risk of babies developing serious gastrointestinal disorders such as necrotizing enterocolitis, which can be life-threatening. Protecting lives, promoting health—those are public health values that underpin our milk bank.

Engaging in public health work can be challenging, but for me there is a fundamental optimism that drives this work. Built into the notion of healthy communities is the concept that health matters, that all people matter, that caring for people, for the environment, for our social and physical worlds matter. The foundation of hope buoys my spirits and keeps me moving forward. And yet, we know hope is not a strategy.

Strategic work for fragile babies

At Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, we are engaging in strategic work to move the public health needle for our fragile babies. We are conducting outreach to compassionate mothers to let them know if they have milk to donate, we are here to steward it safely to babies in need. We are partnering with healthcare professionals to ensure that the hospital units who have babies in need of donor milk have it readily available. We are working with families and community partners to ensure that babies with need have access to donor milk.

Public health has long been my priority. I’m honored to be able to continue to invest in this important work with a laser focus on making sure that our most fragile babies have access to one of the medical tools that helps them thrive—safe, pasteurized donor human milk. At Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, we are giving this our unwavering commitment and support. I hope you will join us.

Interested in getting involved? Consider donating milk, making a financial contribution, or volunteering.