The only not-for-profit human milk bank in the UK has been launched and is recruiting breastfeeding mothers in London and throughout the South East. Martha Alexander reports
In a bid to help save the lives of premature babies, the Hearts Milk Bank (HMB) in Hertfordshire aims to raise £50,000 to create a donor milk programme supporting neonatal units which currently struggle to provide enough donor milk.
Each year, 70,000 premature babies are born in the UK, with immature and delicate digestive systems that need even more protection and nurturing than full-term babies. Mothers of premature babies can often take longer to express enough milk for their little one. Ensuring these babies have breast milk can protect them from serious and in some cases; fatal illnesses reduce their stay in hospital and can help mothers establish their own milk supply.
“Donating breast milk is a very special and unique gift,” says Gillian Weaver, Co-Founder of HMB and International Milk Banking Expert. “We are looking forward to enabling more mothers throughout the southeast to be able to safely share their precious breast milk with sick and premature babies.”
Breast milk donors will be recruited by HMB, once they have been successfully screened; due to various circumstances affecting a breastfeeding mother such as medication or infection, not all milk can be accepted. However, once a donor has been approved, HMB will collect the donated milk before screening it and storing it. Milk will also be heat treated before it is redistributed to preterm and sick babies.
HMB have also initiated Expresso Clubs, a service designed to offer milk donors support and advice, as well as providing information to mothers interested in donating their own milk. Would-be donors can register and have their blood taken for testing. Breast milk collection containers for the milk will be provided, and volunteer couriers will be on hand to collect frozen donated milk whenever convenient. As the name suggests, Expresso Clubs are also a place for donors to socialise with other mums over a cup of (decaf) coffee.
“It just can’t be acceptable that babies are going without life-saving donor milk in our modern health service,” says Dr Natalie Shenker, co-founder of HMB. “We also want to bring an end to the stories of mothers struggling to donate their milk.”