Premature babies born in South Australia will be able to access donated breast milk after the launch of a new breast milk bank, operated by the Red Cross.
SA Health has partnered with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service to run the milk bank for the next three years.
Vulnerable babies in the neonatal intensive care units (NICU) at Flinders Medical Centre and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital will be eligible to access the pasteurised milk.
Why Donated Breast Milk?
Premature babies can have serious health challenges at birth; this often affects their ability to breastfeed directly from their mothers. Some mothers find their efforts to express breast milk are unsuccessful.
In these cases, mothers need to find alternative ways to provide nutrition for their vulnerable babies.
The benefits of breast milk for premature babies
There’s little argument from health experts: breast milk is perfectly and uniquely designed to fulfil all babies’ nutritional needs.
Premature babies especially benefit from breastmilk, as they often have serious health problems to overcome. Their digestive systems are immature and breastmilk is much easier to digest than infant formula.
Important benefits of breast milk:
- Breast milk contains lipase, which helps prematures babies to absorb the fat more easily, aiding their growth and development.
- Breast milk has lactose, which helps premature babies to absorb minerals.
- Oligosaccharide in breast milk prevents the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine. This reduces the risk of necrotising enterocolitis – when parts of the bowel experience tissue death.
- It offers protection against infections and illnesses, such as sepsis, meningitis, pneumonia and bronchiolitis.
- Breast milk has future benefits, such as improved cognitive functioning and a reduced risk of ongoing health problems, which are always a concern in low weight and premature babies.
Is Donated Breast Milk Safe?
Milk banks have very strict regulations with regard to the screening and processing of milk donations.
Donors are screened for infections that can be passed through breast milk. They are also asked about any existing health conditions, their use of medications, and their alcohol and caffeine consumption.
Women who have certain health conditions, take some medications, and drink small amounts of coffee or alcohol are not necessarily ruled out as donors.
Donor milk is tested for bacteria and then pasteurised – most commonly by being heating to 62.5ºC for 30 minutes, and rapidly cooled. The donor milk is then tested again for bacteria and frozen for future use.
This process – a combination of pasteurisation and freezing – eliminates harmful bacteria and viruses. It also preserves most of the beneficial components of the milk.
The Red Cross Milk Bank is collecting milk from mothers in Adelaide so as to provide donated milk to NICUs across South Australia. There are also plans to offer the program at interstate hospitals.
The milk bank will allow staff in neonatal units to order donated breast milk on demand, similar to the way they currently order blood supplies. According to estimates, the service will require about 300 litres each year to meet demand.
If you live in the metropolitan area of Adelaide, and you have 2 or more litres of breast milk to donate, please visit www.milkbank.com.au or call 1300 459 040.