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Ireland’s only human milk bank, The Western Trust Milk Bank, is based in Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh. The Western Trust Milk Bank has provided help for hundreds of babies all over Ireland, since it opened in 2000. Ann MacCrea IBCLC is the co-ordinator and founder of the milk bank.
In 2015, the milk bank issued approximately 1,500 litres of milk to units around Ireland, helping approximately 856 babies, including 90 sets of twins and 17 sets of triplets.
In the first 12 years of the milk bank’s operations, donations from mothers has helped 5,514 premature and sick babies.
All babies benefit from breastmilk but for premature babies it can be the difference between life and death. Breastmilk provides nutrients, hormones and growth factors which are essential for healthy development. Breastmilk strengthens babies immunity, for fighting viruses and bacteria and protects against necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) which is a life-threatening bowel condition common in premature babies.
Through the generosity of its donors, the milk bank provides very special help for the nation’s most vulnerable babies. In 2015, 27 mothers who had lost their babies contacted the bank and donated their milk in memory of their little one.
What is the human milk bank?
This is a place where human milk is collected, processed and stored. This milk is made available to sick babies in hospitals and other specialist baby units throughout Ireland.
Who are donors?
Donors are mothers who are breastfeeding their own babies (up to six-months-old), have excess milk and are prepared to help other babies by donating some of their breast milk. This gesture can help tiny, premature, sick babies survive and leave hospitals more healthy. Donors are asked to provide a donation of at least three litres (100ozs) by the time their baby is six-months-old.
What screening processes are in place?
A full history is taken from all potential donors and blood tests are undertaken for HIV one and two; HTLV one and two; Hepatitis B and C; and syphilis. The milk bank cannot accept donations from mothers that have had a blood transfusion, smoke, received certain IVF treatments or are taking antidepressants.
Is donor milk screened?
All donor milk is checked for bacteria, protein and fat content. All milk is pasteurised under UK regulations. After holder pasteurisation, it is checked again for bacteria. Only clear milk can be issued to maternity units. Milk is labelled – so hospitals can use the most appropriate milk for the babies in their care. The milk bank updates its procedures in line with current research and conforms to NICE Guidelines (National Institute for Clinical Excellence – an independent body who give guidance on the best possible practice in the United Kingdom).
A tracking system is in use so all milk can be tracked from the mother who donated the milk to the baby that received it. All tracking records are kept for 30 years.
How is milk collected?
The milk bank issues pre-sterile bottles. The donors record their name and expression date on each bottle. Once donors have collected sufficient milk they contact the milk bank for a transport box which is then sent to the bank using variety of transport routes with milk frozen in insulated boxes.
How to order donor breast milk?
Milk is issued on receipt of a request from a hospital or a doctor that is treating the baby. Milk is then packed deep frozen, in insulated, tamper evident boxes. Milk needed in an emergency usually travels by the blood bike service. Routine hospital supplies travel by hospital transport, Translink or An Post Express Post.
How can public health nurses can support the milk bank service?
As public health nurses, we meet breastfeeding mothers in their homes, in clinics and in breastfeeding support groups and this puts us in an ideal position to advise mothers about the services of the milk bank and to support mothers if they decide to donate their breastmilk.
From the breastfeeding support group in the Macroom PCCC in Cork, five mothers have very generously donated breastmilk to the milk bank. One mum received a thank you card from the milk bank, advising her that her breastmilk had been donated to six different babies in a neonatal unit. She was delighted and felt very proud that her milk had helped and possibly saved the lives of so many babies. It is hard work but very rewarding for donating mothers.
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