Erin McGreal-Miller at the Henry Ford Milk Bank

Babies, parents, and caregivers in Central and Southeast Michigan now have better access to donor breast milk thanks to Michigan State University alumnae Erin McGreal-Miller and Brittany Ganton.

Shared experiences motivated them to help open the state’s second milk bank; both pursued master’s degrees in public health (MPH) at MSU and chose to use donated breast milk to feed their babies.

As a business coordinator at Henry Ford Jackson Hospital, Ganton and her colleagues worked through the pandemic to learn more, secure funding and a location, and initiate the process of getting accredited by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA).

“Once I had my own two kids, I really realized how important breastfeeding is and giving mothers – all the mothers – the choice of what they want to give their babies,” said Ganton, a 2018 MSU graduate who is taking time away from work to be with her family.

Erin McGreal-Miller, the current milk bank manager, was hired in March 2022 after graduating from MSU in 2021. Ganton was part of the team that recruited and hired McGreal-Miller.

“I was really excited about our MSU connection,” McGreal-Miller said. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise. And I just love it. I’m really grateful.”

The importance of breast milk

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast milk is the ideal food for infants. It contains antibodies that help protect against many common childhood illnesses and provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life.

Breast milk continues to provide at least half of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year and up to one-third during the second year of life. 

The WHO also says children who have breastmilk perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and are less prone to diabetes later in life.

“The science is increasingly clear that a healthy start to a child's life provides a positive life course trajectory and multigenerational impact,” said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Associate Dean for Public Health and C. S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health at the MSU College of Human Medicine. 

“With both maternal and infant benefits, breastfeeding and breastmilk equip our youngest children with the necessary ingredients for health and success."

How milk banks can help

Ganton said she got pregnant when there was a shortage in the availability of baby formula and had a nine-month-old at home. After she depleted the supply of her breast milk, she relied on donations from a friend.

McGreal-Miller had twins via C-section and said that it “took a while for my milk to come in.” She gladly accepted donor milk from Bronson Hospital, where she delivered the babies because that’s what she thought was best.

Both agree that building awareness of milk banks is important – for families and donors.

“There’s a scarcity of pasteurized donor human milk, so it’s not able to be offered everywhere,” said McGreal-Miller. “Since doing this (job), I’ve heard so many people say they had no idea. You don’t know about it until you need it.”

McGreal-Miller and Ganton say there are many reasons why parents would want or need to access safe, reliable donor milk.

“I’ve been in contact with some moms recently who are asking for donor milk because they are undergoing chemotherapy or they’ve had breast cancer in the past,” said McGreal-Miller. “Sometimes someone is separated from their baby by foster care or adoption. It also can be very stressful when a baby is born prematurely because it can be hard for a mom to establish a supply, and breast milk is so valuable for those tiny little preemies.”

“This is also a way that mothers who have lost babies but still have milk coming in are able to donate to help save other babies while moving through the grieving process,” Ganton added.

About the New Henry Ford Milk Bank – Jackson

“We are lucky in the state of Michigan to have two HMBANA-accredited milk banks,” McGreal-Miller said. "There are only 32 across the United States and Canada.”

Donors answer screening questions, go through a brief telephone interview, and get their blood screened. Approval from their healthcare provider is also required.

“While we have to be rigorous because this milk is going to newborns who may have compromised immune systems, it’s also coming from people who are very busy, and we want to be respectful of their time,” said McGreal-Miller.

Milk is pumped at the donors’ home or location of their choosing, Ganton explained. The donor labels it with the date pumped and their name. They can drop it off at the milk bank drive-through. The milk is then pasteurized and prepared for pick-up.

Learn more about sharing breast milk.

December 20, 2023