This mother-baby nurse started a donor milk program

She’s a NICU mother and a nurse who has seen first-hand the benefits of breastfeeding. Now Ashley Corwin is heading up a special program at IU Health Jay.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes

She’s the mother of three and she’s a nurse who works with mothers and newborns. Those two qualifiers set the wheels in motion for Ashley Corwin to start a donor milk supplementation program at IU Health Jay.

“Having breastfed my three children, I know breastfeeding is challenging. As completely ‘natural’ as it is supposed to be that is not usually the case,” said Corwin, who began taking additional courses four years ago to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding. A year later she became a, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

“Working in the newborn nursery we would have babies with low/failing blood glucose, infant and maternal health conditions and emergencies that would lead to the need for formula supplementation,” said Corwin. “I quickly determined when we were supplementing with formula that mothers were more quick to give up on their breastfeeding goals. Most felt they had already failed at breastfeeding if formula had to be used. Mothers were switching to formula sooner because they were discouraged.” Corwin is also the mother of a NICU baby who was given donor milk during his hospital stay. It drove her passion for donor milk supplementation and also her certification as a lactation consultant.

Her research led Corwin to Sarah Long, an international certified lactation consultant with the Indiana Milk Bank. Corwin learned the process to implement the use of Pasteurized Donor Human Milk at IU Health Jay.

According to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, member milk banks follow strict screening, processing and dispensing guidelines developed in consultation with the Center for Disease Control and the US Food and Drug Administration. Donor milk is pasteurized using the Holder method – eliminating potentially harmful bacteria while retaining valuable nutrients. After pasteurizing, the milk is ready for freezing and storage and can be shipped to hospitals and outpatient families.

By January 2017, the program was in place at IU Health Jay Hospital.

Breast milk is known to contain antibodies that help fight viruses and bacteria and lower a baby’s risk of developing asthma and allergies. Research indicates babies who are fed exclusively breast milk for the first six months have fewer ear infections, respiratory viruses and bouts of diarrhea.

IU Health Jay is a critical care access hospital with a level 1 nursery (delivering babies at 35 weeks and above). The Indiana Mother’s Milk Bank was founded in Indianapolis in 2005 to help improve health for premature and ill infants. The program helps educate donors and recipients along with organizing milk drives to raise awareness of the benefits of breast milk. Riley Hospital also has a milk bank for NICU babies.

“This program has been very successful for our exclusive breastfeeding rates and has kept our mothers encouraged to breastfed,” said Corwin. Since 2018, 85 percent of newborns needing supplementation were provided donor breast milk. In all the hospital has provided donor milk to 72 mother-infants since April 2017.