Local to lead national ‘sisterhood of milk banks’ in effort to aid mothers and infants in need

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America named resident Lindsay Groff as executive director earlier this month

Lindsay Groff

Washington Township resident Lindsay Groff never thought her passion and career would ever intertwine. However, seven years after receiving the news her daughter would be born with a birth defect, which brought to light the impact of breast milk for ill and premature babies, as well as the importance of nonprofit breast milk banks, Groff was named executive director of the nonprofit Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Groff first learned of pumping breast milk while pregnant with her daughter Charlotte, who was diagnosed with an abdominal wall defect. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, giant omphalocele, which causes the “abdominal organs to protrude into the base of the umbilical cord,” is seen in approximately one in 10,000 births. Due to her condition, Charlotte would not likely be able to breastfeed, or feed from a bottle, for weeks after her birth, therefore Groff began pumping her breast milk and freezing it for when her daughter was ready.

“We had a long journey of surgeries and recoveries at CHOP while she was in the NICU,” Groff said. “I was able to pump the milk, even though she wasn’t able to take it for another several weeks, and I built this supply for her, and I was fortunate enough to have more than enough. The same person who taught me about pumping told me there was an organization to donate the milk for other babies.”

Milk banks located throughout the country provide breast milk for mothers and children who need it most, whether they be premature infants whose mothers may have trouble producing milk, or babies born with illnesses, such as Charlotte. According to Groff, through member accreditation, HMBANA ensures donated milk is safe, and provides oversight to nonprofit milk bank members to ensure everyone is handling and processing the milk the same way.

“Since HMBANA is a nonprofit, it ensures milk is ethically given to babies, that it has nothing to do with their race, gender or ability to pay,” Groff said. “It really is about giving the sickest babies the milk they need, almost like a medical intervention.”

Similar to medicine, to receive breast milk through a milk bank, Groff said, it must be prescribed by a doctor, typically a neonatologist.

“It’s vital, especially for the babies born prematurely or with health problems. The milk can be digested so much easier, it provides immunological benefits, it prevents illness,” Groff said. “It can serve like a daily dose of a vaccine to a baby and help them get well, gain weight and get out of the hospital sooner.”

Groff also said mothers benefit from donating their milk by feeling as though they are giving an “incredible gift” for women and children in need.

Lindsay Groff’s daughter Charlotte was born with a birth defect, which is what sparked Groff’s passion for milk banks.

“We have mothers who sadly lose their babies and mom is still able to pump and give that milk,” Groff said. “It can be a way to honor the memory of the child who has passed by giving the milk to babies for them to survive.”

As the executive director at HMBANA for just a few short weeks, Groff said she feels as though the position honors her own daughter who inspired the passion which led to her new career, and is now a thriving and healthy 7-year-old. Through her own experience, Groff is committed to providing the opportunity for mothers across the country to have the same opportunity she had.

“HMBANA has experienced a tremendous amount of growth; the demand is on the rise for milk, and the number of milk banks is also on the rise,” Groff said. “What I hope for my position is to bring members together and show member benefits in creating a sisterhood of milk banks where we can accomplish more by working together.”

According to Groff, at the time there are no South Jersey milk banks. The closest location would be in Philadelphia at CHOP. Groff said member milk banks accept help in various forms, such as milk donors, financial donors and those who would like to donate their time. A listing of all 26 milk banks can be found on the HMBANA website, www.hmbana.org, as well as information on how interested women may get involved at each location.