For Australia’s most vulnerable premature babies, breastmilk can quite literally be a life saver.

Now, for the first time, South Australian premmie babies can access donated breastmilk ‘on tap’.

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service has just announced plans to open a milk bank to collect liquid gold breastmilk from donors in Adelaide.

Sharing the (liquid) love

“We are now collecting breastmilk from generous voluntary mothers in Adelaide so we can provide pasteurised donor human milk to Neonatal Intensive Care Units in South Australia to help babies grow,” a statement from the Australian Red Cross says.

“If you live in the metropolitan area of Adelaide, and you have 2 litres or more breast milk to donate, please visit www.milkbank.com.au or call 1300 459 040.”

Milk sharing is nothing new. While ‘wet nursing’ might be a thing of the past, donating breast milk to babies in need is growing in popularity, both via official channels (milk banks) and through community run initiatives like the milk sharing network, Human Milk for Human Babies.

Australia currently has five milk banks, four of which are linked with a hospital. They all provide screened breastmilk specifically for premature and sick infants in hospital neo-natal intensive care units.

breast pump and milk for breast milk bank

Why donated breast milk?

Screened, pasteurised donated breast milk is considered the best alternative when a baby isn’t able to feed directly from their mum. This often happens with premmies, especially those born before 36 weeks, who haven’t yet developed the reflex or strength to latch and suck. These bubs usually need a feeding tube which delivers the nutrients they need straight to their tiny tummies. 

“Premature babies can often face significant health challenges when they arrive in the world a little earlier than expected. These challenges can include being unable to feed directly from their mother in the early weeks to receive the appropriate nutrition,” the Australian Red Cross says.

“To help bridge that gap, our Milk Bank will help provide access to pasteurised donor human milk, until their mother’s supply of breast milk comes in, or these tiny babies can feed directly from their mum.”

Donors must meet extremely strict criteria to be able to donate, with things like smoking, drinking, the use of certain medications (and illicit drugs) and risk of blood borne diseases all assessed.

breast milk bank for premature babies

Great news for RAD-elaide

Up until now, newborns in neo-natal intensive care in South Australia struggled to access donated breastmilk. Breastmilk collected from eligible mums in the metro-Adelaide area will go to Sydney for testing and processing. Once given the tick of approval, the milk will be used at Adelaide’s Women and Children’s Hospital and Flinders Medical Centre.

Breast Milk Bank screening process

Women’s and Children’s Hospital neonatal nursing/midwife educator Jennifer Gillis tells The Advertiser the new milk bank will help give South Australia’s tiniest babies the best start.

“While a mother’s own milk is the best, many babies born prematurely in Australia do not have access to a sufficient supply ,” she says. “Should supply of a mother’s own breastmilk be insufficient, pasteurised donor breast milk is the preferred alternative.”

A national initiative?

There are 24 Neo-natal intensive care units across the country, but only four have a milk banks. This makes for a massive demand for donated milk. The Red Cross Blood Service Milk Bank is now working closely with the NSW government to set up a similar initiative in that state.

Victoria and Queensland already have breastmilk banks for premature babies.

Breast milk is pretty magical stuff. Check out what happens when breast milk takes on (and dominates) this nasty virus.

Author

Naomi is 3/4 latte drinking, peanut butter obsessed former magazine girl who now does stuff with words for a living while juggling 2.5 kids, 2 cats, 1 rabbit, husband and an unhealthy obsession with slow cooking.

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