Celebrating World Milk Donation Day with a new twin!

This weekend, milk banks and NICUs worldwide celebrated World Human Milk Donation Day!

For everyone working in human milk banks, today is the day above all others when we consider the global nature of human milk donation. There are currently over 600 milk banks operating in at least 60 countries around the world. We recognise the powerful contribution made by mothers everywhere as they share their surplus breast milk with sick and premature babies, and sometimes with babies whose own mothers are very unwell and unable to breastfeed. In so doing, they join a century old sisterhood of generous and caring individuals who have made and continue to make a very significant difference to the health and future of hundreds of thousands of tiny babies throughout the world.

This year, rather than a party (no way could we compete with a Royal Wedding AND the FA Cup final?!), the team at the Hearts Milk Bank are instead marking the day by announcing we have a new twin! Or more like, a big sister. We are proud to announce a transatlantic linking with the Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation Mothers’ Milk Bank in Denver, Colorado.

Gillian recently spent three days there, witnessing the results of almost 40 years of dedicated work to build what was initially a small hospital based milk bank into an establishment that recruits donors across the USA, sending donor milk to hospitals and home-based infants over a huge geographical area – throughout their history they have provided milk to hospitals in 50 states!  Last year they recruited over 1000 donors and shipped out 22,000 litres of milk. In our first year, we have recruited 150 mothers as milk donors, and the number being recruited each week is rising quickly – we have big dreams and plans!

Two new initiatives at the MMB really impressed Gillian. The first can be found in the entrance lobby. It is a model of a quaking aspen, the beautiful tree with its golden leaves in autumn, that can be spotted throughout Colorado. The milk bank’s aspen honours bereaved mothers and the engraved gold drops attached to the leaves act as a memorial to the babies whose short lives will be forever linked with the donation of the milk that helped save the lives of other infants.

During her visit the staff were preparing for a very special event that took place yesterday. Friday May 18th was the launch date for their new Baby Café where mothers can receive practical help and support with their lactation and breastfeeding as well as in cases of plentiful milk supplies, find out more about donating some of their milk and the work of the milk bank.

We look forward to working closely with the MMB in the future and to sharing more of their news stories with the HMB donors and supporters. The staff of the HMB sent the following message to our colleagues in the MMB;

“All at the Hearts Milk Bank in the UK send their congratulations on the opening of the Baby Cafe. We are delighted to be so closely allied to the Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation Mothers’ Milk Bank and are looking forward to sharing our news and updates, collaborating on future projects and looking at how best to learn from our current practices and experiences. We send our very best wishes for the success of the new Baby Cafe which will offer so much help and support for new mothers and look forward to reading all about it in the coming days. We are especially thinking of you this weekend as we join with milk bankers everywhere to acknowledge the invaluable contribution made by mothers the world over in sharing their surplus breast milk to help sick, premature and disadvantaged babies.”

Cutting the ribbon and celebrating at the opening of the first Baby Cafe!


2017 in review

As the year comes to an end, we thought we’d put together a few of our accomplishments throughout 2017. We owe a lot of people a lot of thank yous, and hope that this will give a smile to all of you out there who have supported and continue to support us in so many ways. The future is bright!

Announcing our team of expert advisors

The Hearts Milk Bank is proud to be supported by a host of leading professionals from a range of different backgrounds. These experts lend their knowledge and guidance pro bono, and we are incredibly grateful for their support.

Microbiology and Donor Screening

Dr Jim Gray has been a Consultant Microbiologist at Birmingham Children’s and Women’s Hospitals in England since 1995. Since then he has maintained research and clinical interests in the prevention and management of obstetric and neonatal infections. Jim has worked on several programmes with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE); he is currently a standing member of a Rapid Clinical Guideline Updates Committee and the Diagnostic Assessment Panel, but his introduction to working with NICE was as a member of the Donor milk banks: service operation Guideline Development Group. Jim is Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Hospital Infection (the official journal of the Healthcare Infection Society) and has editorial responsibilities with a number of other academic journals.


Social Enterprise and Governance

Mark Goodson has been a business advisor with Cambridge Social Ventures (part of the University of Cambridge) since its inception in 2014. During that time, he has worked with over 100 social ventures, supporting their growth and helping them make a positive impact in the world. Prior to this he spent over 30 years in technology, co-founding venture capital funded start-ups, taking on senior positions at companies such as Cambridge Silicon Radio and acting as a consultant to technology companies. He has founded a number of ventures, both commercial and social, and is also a post-graduate qualified coach and mentor.


Wendy Jones was a community pharmacist and also worked in GP surgeries supporting cost effective, evidence-based prescribing. She qualified as a pharmacist prescriber. Wendy left work in 2011 to work on writing her book Breastfeeding and Medication (Routledge 2013), developing information and training material on drugs in breast milk.  She also recently published Breastfeeding for Dads and Grandmas (Praeclarus Press) and Why Mothers Medication Matters (Pinter and Martin). Wendy runs a helpline service on the use of medication in breastfeeding mothers for a UK charity, responding to healthcare professionals and mothers.  She has been a breastfeeding supporter for 30 years. Wendy is passionate that breastfeeding should be valued by all and that medication should not be a barrier. The importance of breast milk for vulnerable preterm infants whose mothers are unable to breastfeed, for a variety of reasons, is an extension of this. Wendy has three daughters, all breastfed and as passionate about breastfeeding as her, and three grandchildren who seem just as keen!


Dr Merran Thomson.


Accreditation and professionalism

The NICE Guideline includes an audit tool for milk bank teams to complete, which is currently the way the milk banks self-accredit throughout the UK. On busy units, self-accreditation can sometimes be an afterthought, creating extra work for staff who are already stretched. The development of a milk bank-specific tracking system, being piloted at the Hearts Milk Bank, will hugely simplify the process. It will not only ensure the safety of donor milk, but enable the necessary statistics to be at our fingertips.

Dr Natalie Shenker, as a Trustee of the UK Association for Human Milk Banking (UKAMB), is part of the UKAMB Accreditation Working Group, formed earlier this year, which is developing an external accreditation process for each milk bank in the United Kingdom External accreditation is the gold standard for ensuring safe milk banking practices, and we are working with all other milk banks to drive this forward to ensure that safe practices are embedded in every milk bank in the county.

Alongside the Accreditation Working Group, Natalie is also putting together a team of experienced advisors to establish a Professional Development Framework for milk bank personnel. This Framework will aim to ensure that all milk bank staff, from the junior apprentice to the most senior regional milk bank manager, are appropriately trained, informed, and able to work in any aspect of the complex and fascinating world of milk banking. Continuing professional development will be at the heart of the Framework. Crucially, the Framework will build towards the registration of milk banking as a profession in the UK, acknowledging the specialised knowledge and skills of milk bank staff, and create a career path to inspire the next generation.


Although there has not been a single documented case of a baby becoming infected with a transmissable virus from screened donor milk, a theoretical risk of such an infection exists. Therefore, the safety of donor milk is the paramount concern to every milk bank. At the Hearts Milk  Bank, we have adopted the highest standards of safety from the outset.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) aims to improve health and social care through evidence-based guidance. The NICE Guideline for the Operation of a Human Milk Bank was developed over a 2-year period by a working group that included Gillian Weaver, HMB cofounder, and Dr Jim Gray, Expert Advisor on Microbiology to the HMB. It was published in 2010. Guideline #93 has been fully adopted by the HMB, and referred to daily as a minimum standard of safety. We aim to exceed the safety parameters in the Guideline, and inform its future iterations by conducting carefully designed research studies alongside our routine work that aim to enhance safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the service.

For information on the NICE Guidelines for operating a human milk bank (Guideline #93), please click here.

At the Hearts Milk Bank, we strive to go even further for safety. We have invested in state-of-the-art equipment, such as this Class 2 Biosafety Cabinet, which uses an ultra-microfilter to remove particles as small as viruses from the air within the cabiinet. During processing, milk containers are only ever opened within this cabinet, minimising the risk of any contamination. 

The ESCO biosafety cabinet is equipped with an ultraviolet light, which effectively sterilises the cabinet before and after use, as shown here. 

One area that needs close attention regardless of the scale of a milk bank’s operation is the tracking and traceability of donor milk. Large scale milk banks can struggle with the processes required to make sure that milk is only issued to hospitals once all of the safety checks have been carried out. When thousands of litres are passing through a milk bank, it can be an enormous but incredibly necessary administrative burden. We are therefore proud and excited to be piloting the Savant LiLac Donor Milk Tracking System this Autumn – Savant are the leading UK company that develop tracking systems for human tissues, and work closely with the NHS Blood and Transplant Service.



A wonderful day at the Lexi

We are so grateful to Cordelia and all in the NWL Breastfeeding Group who put on such a fantastic event today at the beautiful Lexi Cinema in Kensal Rise.

The venue was almost sold out with old friends and new, in addition to whatever the collective noun for a plethora of lovely babies is (answers below to that one please!).

The stunning film and gentle soundtrack seemed to lull the babies to sleep, and it was the women shedding tears throughout rather than the babies.

Together, everyone raised almost £600 today! This will make a massive difference, and we are hoping to talk with the film-maker, Noemi Weis, so that we can organise our own screening of the film later this year in Hertfordshire. Watch this space!

Natalie and Silke after the film, still a bit red-eyed…

One girl takes fundraising to new heights

At the end of 2016, Gillian and I had a very special afternoon when we were invited to a gymnastics display organised by Ruby Robinson, a member of the Richmond Gymnastics Association.

We were not quite sure what to expect, but the hour that followed went beyond our wildest dreams! Gymnast after gymnast came tumbling out, sometimes with as many as 20 on the mat at one time, performing balletic pieces to dramatic music with incredible tumbles and throws. I have to confess I watched one small boy being repeatedly thrown 20 feet in the air through my fingers, but am glad to say he was caught just in time every time, with a massive smile on his face!

The gymnasts included the RGA display team, the current national champions in acrobatics and tumbling, several GB squad competitors and the trio who represented Great Britain at the Olympic Gala in Rio (pictured).

Britain’s acrobatic group Jennifer Bailey, Katrina Fearon and Roxanna Parker perform during the gymnastics exhibition gala at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, 2016. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

But the real star of the show was Ruby. Her mother told us, “She started doing gymnastics when she was five and has gone on to compete regionally and nationally with the acrobatic gymnastics squad. When her aunt Naomi told her about Hearts Milk Bank and what they do, she decided this was the cause she wanted to take on.”

Ruby herself said, “It was fun because I really liked balancing on someone’s shoulders,” she said. “I made a speech to everyone about the Hearts Milk Bank and RGA. My friends were there and they liked it and I feel happy that I can help children and babies.”

The RGA is a charity itself, with an extensive programme for gymnasts with special needs or disabilities, in stand-alone classes or integrated into the main programme. The RGA has a number of Regional and National Disability Acrobatic Champions, alongside medallists from the London Disability Floor and Vault Championships.

Ruby’s fundraising continued after the display, with family and friends raising a grand total of almost £1500 for the Hearts Milk Bank. This fantastic amount will be massively useful as we start setting things up, and we will be making sure every penny is spent to get us off to the best start possible.


Thank you!

Our Indiegogo crowdfunder closed yesterday morning, having raised the fantastic total of over £14,500 to go towards our equipment costs! Within half an hour of it closing, we received four emails from people who had missed the deadline but wanted to donate – therefore, we have added a PayPal donate button to our homepage. If you missed donating but would really like to and prefer not to use PayPal, please get in touch by info@heartsmilkbank.org and we will send you our bank details.

This was a huge team effort, and Gillian and I not only thank every one of the 227 people who contributed financially, but the huge numbers of people who helped to make it happen.

The film was shot over a weekend at the home of Silke and Frank Durm, who both gave their time and a huge amount of effort to hire the equipment the weekend before, and provide such a warm welcome and hospitality to the milk bank team who moved in for 48 hours! This simply could not have happened without them.

The film itself was directed by the wonderful Meg Thompson, a renowned film producer who guided the rather nervous novice group of milk bankers and parents, and showed no fear of working with the large number of children who took part! And the beautiful quality of the film is completely due to a pair of very talented videographers, Kotryna Sniukaite and Jason Chua, who gave up not only their weekend, but many many hours thereafter to cut the six hours of interviews down to the final four minutes.

And then the music. The beautiful track Angel was sung by Claire Tchaikowski and arranged by the awe-inspiring Neil Davidge (Massive Attack was the soundtrack to my medical school days…!). It isn’t every day that two such talented people pop out of the woodwork and offer to help for free, but given the number of times it has happened over the last nine months, we now just accept the universe is trying its best to help.

Finally, we were supported day by day throughout the campaign by Naomi and Silke who divided up sending thank yous to everyone who donated, and by the army of Tweeters and Facebookers who shared our posts, especially Simon at Facebook who went above and beyond to ensure that we reached as far and wide as possible! Facebook loves breastfeeding – who knew?!

The campaign had its ups and downs, and looking back over the last two months we have learned so much from our early mistakes. Throughout, we weathered family crises, looking after poorly kids and keeping life going while knowing another Tweet could help bring more vital funds in, if I could just get the message across in 140 characters. I’ve gained a heap more grey hairs but an unshakable conviction that this milk bank will work, and a bright 2017 is ahead!

So on behalf of this wonderful team, thank you to everyone who helped, baked cookies, ate cookies, and put in your hard earned money!

Milk and cookie parties – the start of a tradition!

It’s World Prematurity Day! To mark the day and celebrate all families affected when children are born too soon, a series of Milkshake and Cookies have been going on today across the country. There has been a lot of laughter, hugs, tears and much needed fundraising going on – here is Gillian at an event in south London today!


To mark the day, we have also launched a 2 minute appeal for the Hearts Milk Bank ( https://app.crowdcaster.com/media/sYvzfzfNzDjpjAn7S) that will lead onto a series of podcasts that cover the range of our work in collaboration with  crowdcaster.com – a new and exciting social enterprise that aims to give people a voice online. Please listen and share as widely as possible, and listen out for more coming soon.

Best wishes to all, and thank you for your ongoing support,

Natalie and Gillian

The WISE Awards 2016

We are so elated to be helping to fly the flag for women in science at the WISE Awards tonight. Dr Natalie Shenker was nominated for the Hero Award by the Althea-Imperial Programme at Imperial College and is now down to the last three – slightly overwhelmed to be up against the Vice Chancellor of Swansea University and the Director of the Magnox Programme at Sellafield.

The WISE Campaign was founded to encourage more women and girls to consider and pursue STEM subjects. The traditional male dominance of science has begun to be challenged, but a recent study has shown the UK lacks 50,000 female scientists across all fields of study. This is critical for society -unconscious gender biases while carrying out research can skew results, lead to incorrect or incomplete conclusions, and even endanger women – in a classic case, the engineers who originally developed airbag technology in cars failed to take breasts into account, leading to a number of deaths. Simply put, gender balanced teams in general lead to more productive research.

Being shortlised is recognition not only for Natalie’s work to establish the milk bank and raise the profile of donor milk, but also for her work in developing a research programme across the country for studies into breast milk and maternal health, especially breast cancer risk. Tonight she will be meeting Princess Anne and a host of dignatories to represent milk banking, the scores of people who have invested time in he mission to establish the Hearts Milk Bank, and all women who juggle children, families and pretty difficult careers in science and medicine.

Yes Natalie, you can put your new shoes on now – good luck!