Human milk banks collect, store, process and distribute donated breast milk and Scotland has a nationwide service hosted by NHS Glasgow and Clyde, covering all the country’s health boards.
The One Milk Bank for Scotland provides screened, pasteurised donor breast milk to babies who have no or limited access to their own mother’s milk – often these babies are born prematurely.
Breast milk can be described as liquid gold for the numerous health benefits it provides to infants, including protection against life threatening conditions such as neonatal sepsis (a bacterial blood stream infection) and necrotising enterocolitis (a potentially fatal gut infection).
Breast milk from a baby’s own mother is always the best option. However, it can be difficult for mothers of premature babies to produce enough breast milk.
Often the mothers’ bodies were not prepared for the birth and the stress of their baby being in neonatal intensive care can exacerbate the situation making it hard to produce milk.
In these cases, donated human milk is considered the next best alternative and Scotland’s milk bank has a team of 10 volunteer drivers who travel the length and breadth of the country collecting frozen donor milk and transporting it to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
Following screening tests and pasteurisation, the milk is redistributed throughout Scotland, where it is used to feed fragile premature infants in Scotland’s 15 neonatal intensive care units.
Scotland’s milk bank was established in 1978; at that time it operated from a single fridge in Glasgow.
This year, the milk bank celebrates its 40th anniversary and its fifth anniversary since it started operating in its current form.
It is run by just three part-time workers, including Debbie Barnett, the Donor Milk Bank co-ordinator and Neonatal Infant Feeding Advisor. She said: “Women who choose to donate should be very proud of the gift they give. We can’t thank them and our volunteers enough.
“The contribution that all the hundreds of donors have made over the last 40 years is a testament to how important and valued the service is.”
After giving birth to my daughter Ariana in October last year, I noticed posters in the maternity ward seeking milk donors – once home, I contacted the One Milk Bank for Scotland website.
The process to become a donor is straightforward. I completed a health and lifestyle questionnaire, the results of which allowed the milk bank to accept me as a donor (pending blood test results).
The milk bank then sent me a kit containing bottles, labels, a freezer thermometer, paperwork and a blood testing kit. I started to express and freeze milk, following the process stipulated by the milk bank and recording the freezer temperature daily.
Meanwhile, I made an appointment at Kilsyth Health Centre to have my bloods taken using the kit provided by the milk bank.
Ariana accompanied me and we then put my bloods in the securely sealed container provided and posted this immediately.
Rigorous blood screening is carried out on all prospective donors before their milk can be processed, using the same procedures used for blood donations.
Blood is tested for diseases that could be transmitted through the milk, such as HIV, hepatitis B and C and syphilis. These tests cost the NHS around £100 per person, so it is important donors are fully committed.
Once a donor has expressed ten bottles of frozen milk, collection can be arranged. A lovely lady called Janette came to my door to collect my recent batch and I can continue to donate my milk until Ariana is nine to 10 months old.
You are not just providing milk for vulnerable babies, you are also sending a message of love and support to another mother.
To become a donor, your baby should be less than six months old when you make your first donation.
The bank can also take stored milk which is less than 90 days old. Donors must be in good health, non-smokers and had no tattoos within the last year.
For more information, visit www.onemilkbankfor scotland.co.uk.
Experience inspired new fund
Stephanie Griffin witnessed the difference the milk bank makes to mums of premature babies last April when her daughter Rosa was born 12 weeks prematurely weighing just over 1lb.
Rosa spent the first 22 weeks of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit at Wishaw General Hospital.
Despite being seriously ill herself following the birth, Stephanie was able to produce her own milk for Rosa. However, seeing the difference donor milk made for other mums and their babies in the NICU led Stephanie to become a milk donor herself.
She said: “I saw first-hand the amazing work the milk bank does, and this led me to donate a lot of my own milk.
“I was really lucky that I was able to produce not just what Rosa needed but enough to donate too.
“Mums who found it difficult to express milk were often stressed and upset and having the safety net of the donated milk for their sick children really seemed to help.
“The milk bank ensures premature babies are being given life-saving breast milk at such a crucial time. Having a premature baby, I know what mums in that situation are going through – so it was a privilege to be able to donate to the milk bank myself.”
Stephanie is the wife of Central Scotland list MSP Mark Griffin who, as a result of the couple’s experience, successfully campaigned for the creation of a fund supporting parents of premature babies in Scotland.
The £1.5 million fund opened from April 1, the same day as their daughter’s first birthday.
Mark said: “When we were in hospital there were so many families there who were in a real desperate situation – some people in tears because they knew they weren’t coming to see their baby the next day as they couldn’t afford a taxi.”