Lactation counselor expands access to pasteurized donor human milk

If you google Tytina Sanders-Bey, CLC, you will learn that she is a full circle doula, a lactation counselor, a GOLD Lactation presenter, and a mother. You’ll learn that she has worked alongside various organizations like the Chicago Region Breastfeeding Taskforce, Illinois Public Health Institute (ISPAN), Molina Healthcare, African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN), and Fathers, Families and Healthy Communities, most recently serving as a Human Milk Banking Association of North America’s (HMBANA) Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes (MMBWGL) Education and Outreach Specialist. If you keep digging, you might learn that she was a teenage mother, she considers maternal child health advocacy her calling, and she loves nature. 

What you won’t find on Google, and what I’d like to share with you today, is that Sanders-Bey’s spirit is fierce, her presence inviting and her heart immense and self-less, brimming with compassion. She is a change-maker. 

Earlier this year, after participating as a panelist at the Chicago Area Breastfeeding Coalition, Sanders-Bey connected with program coordinator at MMBWGL Susan Urbanski, CLS

“That was the first time I had heard anything about the option of Pasteurized Donor Human Milk (PDHM),” Sanders-Bey says.  “It was like a lightbulb went off.”

“After Susan discussed the value and importance of PDHM, I went on to disclose that PDHM was not an option for communities of color,” she continues.  “I had this testimony as I was a community mother who had no idea that PDHM could be offered in NICUs or on an outpatient basis. Furthermore, I was a breastfeeding helper for countless families and never knew to encourage them to advocate for donor milk.”  (This study explores disparities in hospital-reported use of PDHM in NICUs.)

Soon after, Sanders-Bey says she was “welcomed with open arms” to MMBWGL as education and outreach specialist and later appointed community engagement program manager.

“PDHM is important to me because I care about public health,” Sanders-Bey begins. “It gives babies a fighting chance. That is something that infant formula simply cannot do. In my experience birthing people get a self-esteem boost when feeding human milk versus infant formula. PDHM reduces infant mortality, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), and other feeding intolerance.”

Sanders-Bey role is simple, but not necessarily easy.    

“Basically I educate the public on the option of donor milk,” she explains.

Sanders-Bey engages with hospital staff, community partners, community members, families, case managers, insurance representatives and religious leaders to name a few,  letting them know about MMBWGL’s services including donating and receiving milk and bereavement services. Much of her work has transitioned to virtual platforms because of COVID-19.   

“People, not just families, that I work with are in awe when they find out about donor milk,” Sanders-Bey reports.  “… I try to sum it up into layman terms with statements like ‘You’ve heard about blood banks, right? Well there are milk banks. Blood banks have blood, and milk banks have PDHM.’” 

Sanders-Bey occasionally encounters resistance from professionals who worry about mothers with HIV and with drug and alcohol addictions, but she’s equipped with information that proves donor milk safety.

At the community level, she says families’ concerns fall under accessibility. Sanders-Bey is there to connect them with the resources they need to secure healthy infant feeding methods for their littles ones. 

Surprisingly, human milk donations are surging during the pandemic. Sanders-Bey hopes that this will allow her to expand her work across the Midwest. 

More specifically, she says, “I am hoping that bereaved families are offered donor milk in more scenarios, such as domestic violence and violence overall. I hope more providers open their hearts to the wonders of donor milk and increase access. I’m hoping that if mothers’ own milk is not available, donor milk is offered before infant formula or glucose water.” 

While there’s been an increase in human milk donations, Sanders-Bey points out the overwhelming challenges families are still up against, and the ones that have been magnified by the pandemic. 

For instance, critical health services in Chicago medical centers are vanishing from predominantly Black neighborhoods, as reported here and here.

Sanders-Bey says these closures are the most alarming change that she’s witnessed during her decades of work within maternal child health. 

“That really hurts the communities that are being mostly affected by COVID-19 and systemic racism,” she comments.  “There are no NICUs in certain communities, no trauma units. When I became a mother each time I didn’t have to worry about where I was gonna go to deliver. The fact that I have been doing this work for more than 20 years and have never witnessed such injustice lets me know I need to put in another 20 years to advocate for positive change and improving community health.” 

Sanders-Bey told me, “I’ll always do birth and breastfeeding support paid or not. The payment is seeing the birthing person and baby smile.”

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