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Baby breast milk bank needs donors for Northland’s most vulnerable

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The human milk bank will help vulnerable newborn babies get a better start in life by providing them with pasteurised breast milk. Photo / 123rf

Northland’s youngest and most vulnerable residents are set to benefit from a human milk bank being set up at Whangārei Hospital’s Te Kotuku maternity unit.

The bank will supply screened and pasteurised breast milk to young babies whose mothers are unable to breastfeed.

The project is backed by Te Whatu Ora – Health NZ and Rotary Whangārei South, but more donations are needed to get it up and running.

The human milk bank is especially important for feeding sick and premature infants, who will be prioritised, Sue Bree, Te Whatu Ora director of midwifery and service manager, said.

“Breast milk is particularly important for babies who have been born prematurely or are unwell, requiring admission to the neonatal unit. These babies have higher nutritional and immunity needs.”

In 2023, more than 160 Northland babies were admitted to the neonatal unit.

Bree said a mother’s own milk might not be available in these situations because she is still establishing lactation, she is unable to produce enough milk or she is unable to stay at the neonatal unit, for reasons such as having to care for other children.

The breast milk is donated from healthy breastfeeding mothers who have surplus milk, she explained.

“Breastfeeding mothers undergo a thorough screening process, and after a health and lifestyle screen, they are required to have blood screening done, too.

“We pasteurise the milk and have that available for our sick and preterm babies.”

A total of $32,000 is needed to buy a Sterifed T30 Pasteuriser, to help ensure the breast milk is safe, but Rotary Whangārei South has already raised $20,000 from its own projects.

The club is happy to get behind the project because health and mother-and-child wellbeing are two of its priorities, said president Jenni Moore, who was a nurse for many years.

“We know that breast milk is much better for babies [than formula] and it is formulated specifically for humans – it’s got everything that young babies need,” she said.

“Our members are very excited about this opportunity, particularly because it will help vulnerable newborn babies get a better start in life.”

Once established, the human milk bank will be housed at the hospital, with a system being set up to transport the milk to other parts of Northland. Running costs will be supported by Te Whatu Ora.

Moore said there has been a lot of interest in the project, with mothers sharing stories either of how they needed some breast milk for their infants or had excess they could have donated.

“Everybody is interested in baby health and well children – who would not be interested in that?”

Moore is hoping Northlanders get behind the human milk bank and if everyone donates just a little bit, the $12,000 shortfall will quickly be met.

Donations can be made online and will make a real impact on the lives of others, she said.

Denise Piper is a news reporter for the Northern Advocate, focusing on health and business. She has more than 20 years in journalism and is passionate about covering stories that make a difference.

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