A hospital’s experience of working with the Hearts Milk Bank

We’ve been busy recruiting donors and pasteurising milk for 4 months, and have built up large stocks. Milk is now leaving our doors to hospitals for use on neonatal units, and also to mothers in the community who have medical reasons that mean they cannot breastfeed. We are delighted, and so grateful to all who have supported us to get to this point.

One of the first hospitals to contact us for donor milk was Luton and Dunstable NICU. We wanted to know how the Hearts Milk Bank supports staff and patients on this busy neonatal unit. Lauren Wong, Senior Sister, spoke to us earlier this week.

Where do you work, and what is your role?

 

 

 

I work in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) at Luton and Dunstable Hospital.  We are a busy Level 3 unit, which means that we are able to care for babies who are very sick, or extremely premature (from 23 weeks gestation upwards).  My role is as a Senior Sister and Infant Feeding lead nurse for the NICU.

How is donor milk used on your unit?

Our primary use is for babies born at less than 32 weeks gestation, either to supplement mother’s own milk production (for example if mother is very unwell or having difficulties / a delay building her supply), or very occasionally in situations where we cannot give mother’s milk (for example due to chemotherapy). We also sometimes use donor breast milk for older babies who are very sick (for example those undergoing cooling therapy) or those with digestive issues.

We see breast milk as being like a medicine for our babies.  It contains important factors for brain development, antibodies to fight disease and infection, and helps protects against allergies.  However, the most important issue for our premature and sick population is that breast milk reduces the risk of a gut condition called necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) which can be very serious for babies.

There is strong evidence that increased use of breast milk saves the NHS money in the long term, by reducing the incidence of hospital admissions in babies (gastroenteritis, chest infections etc) as well as lowering the chances of many other conditions affecting older children and adults.  We see demand for donor breast milk increasing, and being more widely used as the importance of breast milk is better understood.

When did you hear about the Hearts Milk Bank?

I first heard about the Hearts Milk Bank through a friend who had seen an article online about a new milk bank for the region. We are very excited to be involved with the HMB.  It is wonderful for us to have a regional milk bank where our NICU mums can easily donate their expressed milk without having to travel (the amazing SERV motorbike team will collect their milk).  Mums are always glad to know that some of this milk may come back to us and be given to new babies coming in (some of their own babies may have also received donor milk for a while).

What support does the Hearts Milk Bank offer?

The staff at HMB are incredibly knowledgeable about milk banking and all things breast milk-related, and are always happy to answer our many questions.  Gillian has visited the unit to give us some teaching about the processes involved in providing donor breast milk.  This was a fascinating talk, and an excellent opportunity for doctors and nurses to ask any questions they had around milk banking.

We are now able to simply give the HMB contact details to our mums with excess milk, and they will guide them through the donation process.  The HMB team also sensitively deals with bereaved parents who wish to discuss donating expressed breast milk.  It may offer some small comfort for these parents to know that they have helped another family in a similar situation.

It is reassuring for us to have a local and reliable source of donor breast milk, rather than having to obtain milk wherever it is available.  Also, as there is no courier charge for the Hearts Milk Bank, we are able to order small amounts as needed, rather than trying to predict long term use and order in larger volumes. They can provide us with larger or smaller bottles to suit our requirements (this helps us to avoid wastage), and they also provide a simple form for each batch to help us record information about who has received the milk.

How do you see the future?

Here at Luton, we are currently working towards accreditation from the Baby Friendly Initiative.  Working with the HMB helps support us to do this through improved education, awareness, and support. We’re also really excited about the research looking into the epigenetics of breast cancer risk, and we look forward to hearing more about this and all the other plans for research that the team has.

 

Setting up

All has been quiet recently on our blog, as we have been rather busy. The Hearts Milk Bank signed our contract with the University of Hertfordshire 2 weeks ago, and moved into the Biopark straight away. The set-up plan that had been waiting then swung into action!

Equipment has been bought, delivered and installed, and supplies are now filling every available cupboard. And most importantly, our first donors have been recruited and their milk is starting to fill up the freezers. After a deep clean next week, and a last deep breath, the first donor milk will be processed and shortly after available to hospitals.

If you are a breastfeeding mum and have a lot of milk stored, or would like to donate over a number of months, please get in touch – we would love to send you more information about the process of becoming a milk donor if you email us at info@heartsmilkbank.org.

Thank you for reading, and to all of you who have supported us over the last year!

Natalie and Gillian

Busting the milk banking myths

No. 1: Milk banks don’t exist.

Come up with an idea and you’re inevitably faced with a whole raft of reasons as to why it will fail, why it can’t succeed and, well to be frank, why you’re daft for even thinking it might. We figured we would have a lot of questions to answer when launching the Hearts Milk Bank crowdfunding drive, and the first 48 hours proved this to be true!

So, to get all those obstacles out of the way right at the start, we thought we’d bust through some of the donor milk and milk banking myths out there. No pun intended.

First and foremost, milk banks… they’re real, they’re necessary, they provide potentially life-saving breastmilk to babies, and they exist all around the world (560 in fact, with 206 in Europe alone).

In the UK there are currently 15. Each accepts donated surplus milk from carefully screened breastfeeding mothers, treats and stores it, and then organises deliveries to hospitals that care for premature and sick babies.

Donated breast milk is, according the World Health Organisation (WHO), the best alternative when new mothers are too unwell to provide milk themselves. It prevents many complications and saves lives.

Demand for donor milk is increasing, but provision in the southeast of the UK is not. This has led to many hospitals in the region not being able to access donor milk at all over the last year. What is needed is a service that can grow with demand, and that’s why the Hearts Milk Bank has been created by a leading expert in UK milk banking, Gillian Weaver, and a doctor and researcher, Natalie Shenker. As one consultant put it, “I would give it to every baby in the hospital if I could get it.”

Let us know your experiences of donating milk! Please also share any reasons you’ve come across as to why people think milk banking, donating and accessing breast milk are not great ideas so we can bust some more myths in the days to come.