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.

 

Help us to do more!

This is Naomi and Jo. They have been volunteering at the Hearts Milk Bank since May. They check, sort and pasteurise the milk donated by scores of wonderful mums, so that it is ready to feed tiny babies in neonatal units across our region. They have been very busy. In the last three months, they have pasteurised over 150 litres of donated milk, and so much is coming in that we have almost run out of freezer space!

At the moment, the SERV Herts and Beds riders keep the Hearts Milk Bank going by picking up and delivering donated milk, alongside their vital work couriering blood products. They are simply wonderful volunteers, who drop everything to help out for nothing more than a cup of tea and a biscuit. However, if we increase our workload any more, we will place an unreasonable burden on these wonderful bikers.

Amazingly, we have been given the opportunity to convert a car into a freezer vehicle, which could deliver milk to hospitals across the region at short notice. For £3000, we could relieve the burden on SERV, and use it to pick milk up from our Expresso Clubs (coming soon), where donors can come together to be recruited as milk donors, and mums can get free advice from a lactation consultant (watch this space!).

Please help us – if we can raise the grand sum of £5000, we can not only buy two freezers large enough to store all the milk we are receiving, but also convert a car into a Milk Mobile!

Make Jo and Naomi even happier, and click here to help us to help even more babies.

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/heartsmilkbank/

 

PS We would really like one of these, but probably not quite the image we are looking to portray!

Thoughts at the start of World Breastfeeding Week

It is World Breastfeeding Week, and in her ever-timely manner, Dr Amy Brown has just published her paper on “Breastfeeding as a public health responsibility: a review of the evidence” in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

We wanted to draw your attention (and any passing Department of Health ministers or civil servants) to this part:

“Investment can and does work. Brazil, for example, is an excellent example of how implementing such a society wide approach significantly increases breastfeeding rates. In 1986, the median duration of breastfeeding was 2.5 months but, by 2006, it had risen to 14 months. Exclusive breastfeeding rates to 4 months also increased from 4% to 48%.

 “To undertake this, the government invested heavily in promoting breastfeeding at the societal level, including multi-organisation working, media campaigns, training for health workers and the development of mother-to-mother support groups. Policy wise, a strict enforcement of the International Code was introduced, maternity leave was extended from to 6 months and more than 300 maternity hospitals gained Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative certification.

 “Investment in over 200 human milk banks led to Brazil having the highest number in the world. These interventions were successful as a result of their combination, as well as the fact that they did not focus solely on maternal knowledge, instead focusing on a mother’s wider environment and support system, enabling her to breastfeed her baby.”

Elsewhere in the world, the development of initiatives to support the establishment of milk banks and increase the availability of safe donor human milk is gathering pace. A growing recognition of the role of milk banks in promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding, as evidenced by increased rates of breastfeeding at discharge from neonatal units, has been instrumental in garnering support for milk banks in India, China, Vietnam and in several African countries. The numbers of milk banks are growing across the globe, including in Europe where milk banks can now be found in Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Estonia, Croatia and soon also in Slovenia.

However, the answer to the demand for increased availability of donor milk isn’t always to create more and more milk banks. When logistical influences such as good transport links and proximity of milk banks to multiple neonatal units are in play, alternative models are more appropriate.

In the UK, as in other European countries, the emphasis should be on ensuring ease of access to safe and sustainable supplies of donor milk that is then used in the most equitable and appropriate way to support mothers and their infants. The potential for donor milk to protect and support breastfeeding is far wider than its current limited use for preterm and very sick infants, but advances will only happen as the result of the development of centralised, appropriately staffed and resourced centres that recruit donors more widely and provide donor milk fairly.

Along with our colleagues in U.K.A.M.B., we are passionate about innovating and driving forward change, and look forward to the challenges beyond WBFW!

Gillian and Natalie

Milk ‘donation’ in the news

Elisabeth Anderson-Sierra, a mother from Oregon, has been hailed as a ‘miracle mum’ following her collection of over 3,500 L breastmilk (5000 pints). Elisabeth has provided half of this amount to the Californian bioscience company Prolacta, and has shared the rest with parents in her local community.

Prolacta Bioscience is one of a number of commercial organisations that pay mothers for the milk that they receive. In common with blood and tissue donations, human milk banks globally recruit mothers to donate their milk. Expenses may be reimbursed in some countries and by some milk banks, but the provision of milk is overwhelmingly an altruistic act.  Both UKAMB and the European Milk Bank Association endorses the donation of milk for a number of reasons linked to safety and security of supply. Both organisations also provide recommendations around the safe sharing of human milk.

Having this amount of surplus breastmilk is an unusual situation, in which the mother may be spending huge amounts of time and energy managing her oversupply. In the article, Elisabeth states that she spends 10 hours a day expressing her milk. Milk banks have a responsibility to mothers and their babies to ensure that there is no encouragement placed upon the mother to produce milk, beyond what is good for her and her own baby or babies. We recommend that mothers do not start to express milk for the milk bank until their breastfeeding is fully established, although there are situations where mothers need to express for other reasons.

 

Gillian Weaver, Natalie Shenker

SME Herts Awards – we won!

Team HMB had an evening off to attend the Small and Medium Enterprise Awards at the Watford Coliseum last night – the event was sponsored by the Federation of Small Businesses, Regus, Clydesdale  Bank and a number of local organisations and councils, with over 300 guests and finalists. The opening speech was made by the inspirational David Clarke, British team football captain and three-time Paralympian, and we enjoyed chatting to some amazing people from businesses across Hertfordshire.

Against eight other finalists in the Best New Business award, we took the runner-up spot. Thinking that was it for the night, Gillian kicked off her shoes and I started texting the babysitter to say we would be back soon. When the Hearts Milk Bank was read out as the winner of the Best Not-for-Profit organisation in Hertfordshire, our table erupted! After the presentation and photos were taken, we celebrated with cups of tea, delighted that another room full of people now knew about the work of milk banks. 

So it is back to work with a vengeance this morning – catching up on everything that has happened in the last week with Gillian manning the fort alone (the Shenker tribe took a much-needed break to lovely Wales), and excited for all the plans unfolding. More news coming soon!

Awards sitting in their new home in the HMB office at the UH Biopark!
             

Natalie

Up and running!

After 3 months of hard work in the lab, and thanks to the help and support of so many hundreds of people, we are up and running! We have recruited scores of wonderful milk donors who are sending milk into the bank via the fab SERV volunteer couriers, and the team has been working flat out to process it and make sure our systems are robust and safe. So much good stuff is happening, and we will fill you in properly over the next few days and weeks as it all settles down (um, if it ever does settle down…). But tonight was a night to pause, celebrate our team and eat!

(PS Sending love out to the missing Gillian Weaver, who is currently in Kenya working with PATH to finalise the establishment of the first milk bank in East Africa!)

Come and see a film to support the Hearts Milk Bank

With one week to go, we ask you all to come and see Milk – Born into this World with us – hear about our work, the progress as we get everything set up, and the research we will be starting up this year:

MILK – Born into this World

a film by Noemi Weis

The Lexi Cinema, 194B Chamberlayne Rd, Kensal Green, London NW10 3JU

Wednesday 17th May 2017: 11am to 1pm

Through an intimate and artistic lens, Milk brings a universal perspective on the politics, commercialisation and controversies surrounding birth and infant feeding over the canvas of stunningly beautiful visuals and poignant voices from around the globe. Inspiring, informative, provocative and sensitive, Milk celebrates bringing a new life into this world with a strong call to action and reflection.

 http://www.milkhood.com/

Tickets are £15 per person, babes in arms are very welcome

Any profit will go to the Hearts Milk Bank!

To buy your ticket, please email cordeliauys@gmail.com.

 

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

MassChallenge UK – we won Gold!

Almost the whole HMB team was out in force last night (missed you Silke) to attend the MassChallenge UK Awards ceremony,

As part of the final cohort of 20 finalist organisations, Natalie gave a final 1-minute pitch to an audience of 500 journalists, investors, academics and supporters. Graeme, our Board Chair, was also there, as well as Naomi, milk bank supporter and volunteer, and Dr James Flanagan from the Imperial College Epigenetics Unit. And yes, she really was 20 feet up on a stage…

The tension mounted throughout the evening as speeches were made, and then the awards of the night were announced. We were astonished to hear the words Hearts Milk Bank announced by sponsors VIIV Healthcare as one of the three Gold Award winners for £10,000! The award was presented with Queen belting out ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ in the background – a fitting theme!

 

We have some ambitious plans for how this can be combined with the crowdfunding sum raised at the end of last year that we can’t wait to share once the details have been worked out, and are incredibly grateful to have had the chance to take part in such an energising process as MassChallenge. But before any more calls or emails could be sent this morning, the award had to be thoroughly examined by the smallest Team HMB member….

Onwards and upwards!

Help us to establish the Hearts Milk Bank!

Today is the day – after 6 months of work from a team of over 20 people, we have launched our crowdfunding campaign! By the time I have even managed to post this, we have already raised over £1000 – critical momentum to build towards our target.

As a start-up, and the first ever social enterprise milk bank in the UK, it is incredibly difficult to raise the necessary investment to create the safe and sustainable service that is so desperately needed – nobody wants to take that first risk. But we have been brave, and a little bit bold, and ever so slightly single-minded, and completely believe in what we are doing. If we can show support is out there, we have the chance to raise the full amount we need to start operating by the end of 2016 – we will literally be helping to save lives of scores of babies by preventing life-threatening complications of prematurity.

Please watch our film here that explains how breast milk protects sick babies – we will be telling you more about the children featured and their parents over the next few weeks, but safe to say there have been many tears shed in the making of this beautiful 4 minutes.

Thank you for sharing!