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!

Our soon to be “home”

There are many items on our wish list, but near the top is a facility that has laboratory space, a back-up generator to preserve the precious milk if the power fails, and reliable security. We have been offered exactly that at the University of Hertfordshire, which means that our volunteer courier team at the SERV Herts and Beds branch will be able to nip in and out to whizz milk around the M25 and beyond with ease. The picture shows the beautiful new University of Hertfordshire Life Sciences building, which opens this term. We’ll be in a smaller building just over the road, but we hear the canteen is great!

Welcome to our blog

We are building up slowly, so please bear with us! The Hearts Milk Bank was established as a social enterprise in May this year. A radical solution was needed to address the postcode lottery premature and sick babies face when donor milk is needed. It has been a very intense few months of organisation, planning and the all-important funding applications, and we will be updating you here on our progress!