If you’ve never heard of human milk banks, you’re not alone – they are one of the UK’s best kept secrets. The co-founders of the Hearts Milk Bank, are on a mission to change that.
Milk banks operate along similar lines to the blood transfusion service. Donated human milk is provided to neonatal intensive care units for very premature or sick babies whose mothers aren’t able to provide enough or any of their own breastmilk – something that is common in the first few days after the baby’s birth. Feeding these babies with breastmilk, either mother’s own or donor milk, helps to prevent severe illnesses in premature babies and reduces the length of their stay in hospital. The use of donor milk also leads to more mothers breastfeeding their babies by the time they are ready to go home.
The Hearts Milk Bank is a new model of human milk bank for the UK – a social enterprise not-for-profit organisation. Like other milk banks throughout the world (~560 in total), it will ask breastfeeding mothers to donate some of their surplus milk once they have been fully screened through questionnaires and blood tests. Their milk will also be tested and specially heat-treated.
Why is the Hearts Milk Bank needed now? Hospital-based milk banks are unable to provide assured supplies of fully screened donor human milk to all the neonatal units throughout England and Wales that need it. The Hearts Milk Bank will be able to expand with demand, providing a regional service that will fill in all the gaps in provision in London and the southeast of England. Milk banks in this region are particularly struggling through a lack of funding and staffing. We want to bring an end to the stories of mothers struggling to donate their milk.
We aim to make life easy for our donors, and are looking forward to starting our innovative Expresso Clubs. Mothers interested in donating will be able to receive advice and information locally about becoming a donor, as well as complete the registration screening and have their blood taken for testing – a one-stop shop! Collecting containers for the milk will be provided, and volunteer couriers will be on hand to collect frozen donated breastmilk whenever convenient. Donors will also be able to socialise with other mums over a cup of coffee (good decaf varieties available!). Easy, local access via our Expresso Clubs to a Lactation Consultant for all breastfeeding mothers is amongst our goals.
We hope you will support us and help us complete the final stages of getting the bank up and running! It just can’t be acceptable that babies are going without lifesaving donor milk in our modern health service.
Written by Gillian Weaver and Dr Natalie Shenker
LinkedIn: The Hearts Milk Bank CIC
Not all milk banks operate in the same way. For example the North West Human Milk bank is able to take donor milk from all mums across England and Wales who fit the criteria: they are a not for profit milk Bank and part of the NHS, providing milk following health professional request to all parts of England and Wales, with four strategically placed depots for distribution in Hull, Sheffield, Manchester and Preston.