Why Breastmilk is Important
Breastmilk is a perfectly balanced source of nutrition and specially designed to meet our baby’s needs. It is a living substance, more complex than blood. It contains a variety of nutrient and immune factors that we cannot replicate. Breastmilk is instantly absorbed and has a positive effect on immediate and long-term health outcomes.
Although its contents vary and are continually changing, breastmilk contains active antibodies. These protect newborns from a variety of infections and diseases. Breastmilk is particularly beneficial for the sick and preterm newborns.
It ensures the best body and brain development possible for each child and assists in the treatment of allergies and feeding intolerance. The milk also helps with immune deficiencies and inborn errors of metabolism. The World Health Organization and UNICEF support donor mothers’ milk as the first alternative where mother’s milk is not available.
The history of milk banks
The practice of human milk banking is well over 100 years old mothers providing breastmilk for a baby they did not birth dates back thousands of years. Human milk banking is older than blood banking and has a safer track record; tomb paintings of ancient Egypt and the Code of Hammurabi from 2250 BC both describe wet nursing. At the turn of the 20th century, this tradition lost favour with the recognition of potential disease transmission and the formulation of artificial infant feeding.
Modern milk banking grew in the early 1900s when wet nursing became less practical. The invent of pasteurization addressed disease transmission concerns, and refrigeration and knowledge of safe food processing grew. Indeed, human milk banking was prevalent in many countries, including Australia, until the 1980s.
New concerns about disease transmission came along with the knowledge of blood-borne diseases such as HIV. These concerns again interrupted milk banking efforts, and the practice once again discontinued. Eventually, the development of new protocols for screening and pasteurizing donor human milk (PDHM) evolved and enabled milk banking to rebuild.
Today milk banking continues to grow. Over 500 active milk banks around the world are in active use, 202 of which are in Brazil. In Australia, the scope of services from each bank varies. Milk banks currently provide PDHM for hospitalized preterm, sick and high-risk babies. However, donated human milk is the best option for all babies whose mothers cannot offer them breastmilk.
What is the Mothers’ Milk Bank Charity?
The Mothers’ Milk Bank Charity (MMBC Australia) was established in 2009 to give parents the choice of donated, screened and pasteurized breast milk. Located on Queensland’s Gold Coast, the MMBC services Northern New South Wales, Southeast Queensland, Northern Queensland, ACT, Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart.
The Mothers’ Milk Bank Charity collects, screens, pasteurizes and distributes donated mothers’ milk to infants where mothers own milk is not available. They also support mothers who encounter difficulties with lactation. Research shows that pasteurized donor human milk protects babies from infectious disease, especially sick and preterm infants. The complex nutrients in mother’s milk are unique and provide the best start for babies.
Where are the milk banks?
At the time of publication, there are five established Milk Banks in Australia;
- Mothers Milk Bank Pty Ltd QLD Registered, “Health Promotions” Charity with DGR status. Located on the Gold Coast and supplying PDHM to Brisbane, GC private and public hospitals, 2005
- PREM bank Based at King Edward Memorial Hospital, WA (also supplying Princess Margaret Hospital); 2005.
- Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital NICU, NSW; 2006.
- Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank Mercy Hospital for Women, Heidelberg VIC; 2011.
- Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) Milk bank – RBWH Grantley Stable NICU; 2012
Recently, scientists have found a way to reduce donated human milk into a powder. This breakthrough will help families in areas without access to milk banks provide breastmilk to their newborns. Please investigate your local services if you would like to donate breastmilk or need their services.
Please click here to read more about the Mother’s Milk Bank Charity.
Kelly Padrão West (BMid, BHSc Nut.Med), Registered Midwife & Nutritionist
Photo by Image by K-STUDIO used under license from Shutterstock.com