Staff of the Human Milk Bank at the South West Acute Hospital are encouraging new mothers to donate breast milk due to low stocks, particularly over the summer months.

Liz Bailie, who has recently taken up the post as co-ordinator of the Western Health and Social Care Trust Milk Bank, commented: “As every mummy knows, breast is best, it’s very precious, it’s gold.”

She continued: “A wee baby, a premature baby especially with gut or cardiac problems, their time in hospital is halved whenever we use donor breast milk if the mummy can’t produce and it’s only until the mummy gets up and running herself.”

Liz added: “We are encouraging new mothers to help with the increase in demand for breast milk and to ensure we have an adequate supply for neonatal units across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. With our dedicated donors, our peer support mothers and the help of new donors we will be able to meet the increase demand for breast milk.”

Since reopening in December 2018, the Human Milk Bank has processed approximately 570 litres of donor expressed milk and have provided approximately 510 litres of breast milk to 27 neonatal units in hospitals across Ireland helping 278 babies, including 30 sets of twins and six sets of triplets.

Explaining the importance of human milk for premature babies, Liz said: “Human milk contains substances that cannot be synthesised, which help the babies fight viruses and bacteria. It has unique fats that help the immature brain, eye and nervous system develop better for improved intellect and sight, but probably most important for the premature baby it helps to protect the immature gut from Necrotizing Entero Colitis (NEC), a life threatening condition where the gut rupture. Breast milk also helps protect babies from pneumonia and septicaemia.”

In her role as Milk Bank co-ordinator, Liz screens the new mothers that have requested to become a Milk Bank donor.

She said: “I go through their health checks, I carry out blood screening, the health screening and then we go through all the processes of distributing milk. Whenever it comes in it’s pasteurised, there’s screening for that. I have a look at it and sign all the donors off for the milk to be released.”

She added: “We are very grateful to all the mums who donate milk to the unit and there is always the need to recruit new donors. Donors are required to be registered by the time baby reaches three months old and once registered, the Milk Bank will accept milk donations up until the sixth month. All milk donations received must be in sterile milk bottles when expressed and donated into the service within three months of expression.”

Liz noted that donors must be non-smokers, not had a blood transfusion, are not on drugs that pass into breastmilk and not had a tattoo, body piercing or acupuncture (unless a letter is provided by the acupuncturist regarding single use sterile needles), or have visited Malarial Countries in the last year and are in good health.

Vivienne Carson, Human Milk Bank Laboratory Technician commented: “Of course it’s always important too that the mother’s that are donating know that they can contact the Milk Bank at any time for any advice or queries that we can help them with. We try to make the process as easy as possible by sending them all the equipment they need to donate and the bikers are very good at contacting the donors to see when they can collect the milk and try to arrange a suitable location for the mothers.”

Expressing her gratitude to the voluntary charity Blood Bikers, who play a crucial role in the distribution of the human milk, Liz said: “The distribution of the milk would not be possible without transport help from Blood Bikers charities who assist with the transportation of milk to neonatal units in the Republic of Ireland and we are incredibly grateful for their ongoing support to the Human Milk Bank.”

If you would like to find out more about the Milk Bank and becoming a donor please contact the Milk Bank on Tel: (028) 6862 8333 or email New mothers are also encouraged to attend their local Breastfeeding Support Group which is supported by SureStart community midwives and held on a weekly basis throughout the Western Trust area.

The video tour of the Human Milk Bank will be available on the Western Trust’s Website and Western Trust YouTube channel in the next few weeks.