Despite loss, local moms donate breast milk to sickest Hoosier babies

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- In a special report, FOX 59's Beairshelle Edmé found that Indiana faces a high infant and maternal mortality rate.

One in ten Marion County babies are born prematurely, according to The Milk Bank and Marion County Public Health Department.

Thursday, the Indianapolis organization held its second annual fundraising breakfast to help these Hoosier babies, and those like them nationwide.

The local non-profit collects breast milk donations for nearly every NICU in Indiana and serves most neonatal hospital units on the East Coast.

Research shows that breast milk can decrease complications and reduce a baby's time in the hospital, something Mary Catharine Grau wants Indiana to know.

The local mom birthed her son, Christopher, on August 1, 2016.

"The doctor said he was medically interesting," Grau described. "He was only a pound and seven ounces when he was born, but he was able to pick up his head and turn it around and he would wave his little heart that was in his bed."

Like Christopher, his mom wanted to fight so even though he couldn't breastfeed because of his medical complications, she still pumped.

"That was something that I felt I was doing for him, and something that only I could do for him," she recalled.

Christopher fought to survive in the NICU, but four months later he died.

"After he died, we had no idea what to do-- things where we could be like, 'Okay, let's do that today. Let's go donate our milk today,'" the mother said.

Grau turned to The Milk Bank.

"Often times, people feel that it's taboo, but mom she wants to talk about this baby, she wants to honor her baby," said Lauren Duncan, the organization's donor mother coordinator.

Duncan can relate to Grau's journey. She lost her son when he was born early at 23 weeks. Duncan donated breast milk in his honor too.

The Milk Bank encourages mothers to donate 100 ounces over two years, and says every ounce can feed up to three babies.

"I always say donor milk, it doesn't just serve a nutritional need, but it also serves a medicinal, a therapeutic need for these tiny babies," Duncan explained.

Grau and her family says every donation she made was therapeutic for them too.

"I will be honest, we still have one bottle in our freezer of the milk for Christopher. I couldn't give all of them away," the mother of three said.

But she donated the rest, and says it kept Christopher's memory alive.

To find out if you qualify to donate or to learn how else you can support The Milk Bank, visit their website.

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