Excitingly for South Australia, in 2018 we became a site for collection and processing of donor breast milk. This is done through the Red Cross, as part of their Milk Bank. Mothers with an excess of expressed milk can donate this to the Milk Bank where it will be pasteurised and offered to NICUs (Neonatal Intensive Care Units). It is given to premature babies whose own mothers are unable to produce a full supply of breast milk. Breast milk has been proven to reduce a range of serious medical complication in premature babies, in particular necrotising enterocolitis, which has a mortality rate of up to 50% in very tiny babies.
The process of pasteurisation reduces the risk of viral and bacterial contamination of the milk, but it also kills a lot of the good immune cells (the live microbiota). An interesting research article came out recently (link here), which could solve this problem. It showed that if the donor milk was mixed with 10-30% of the mother’s own breast milk, and incubated at 37 degrees for 4 hours, the microbiome of the donor milk resembled that of the mother’s breast milk.
This is truly amazing! It means that we can turn sterile donor milk, into a living milk that resembles that of the baby’s mother’s, with only a small amount of her milk. It’s definitely food for thought.
If you would like to become a breast milk donor to the Milk Bank, there are some exclusion criteria. These include: smoking/using nicotine replacement; drinking >2 standard drinks of alcohol a week; current or recent use of recreational drugs; having HIV, Hep C, Hep B, syphilis; or having an increased risk of having Creutzfledt-Jakob disease (CJD) which includes living in the UK between 1980-1996. You also have to have a baby that is under the age of one, and have too much supply for your own baby. There is no financial reimbursement for donations, and the Milk Bank prefers to accept parcels of milk that are more than 2L (and preferably much larger). For more information about the Milk Bank or to register as a donor, click here.
If you don’t fulfil these criteria but you still have excess expressed milk, why don’t you consider donating it in the community? The Milk Bank only offers their pasteurised milk to NICUs. There are plenty of babies in the community who are unable to receive their own mother’s milk for a variety of reasons. These mothers may be keen to explore the option of giving their baby donor milk rather than formula. Community milk donation does not come with the same safety control as the Milk Bank donations. There is a lot of trust that the donor does not have a blood-born illness, does not consume drugs/alcohol, and has collected and stored the milk appropriately.
Facebook pages like “Human Milk 4 Human Babies” (@HM4HBsa) can help connect donors with recipients. I’d encourage you to join this group if milk donation is something you’re interested in.
by Dr Briony Andrew