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Breast milk bank issues call-out to build reserve for emergencies such as bushfires, pandemic

ABC Gold Coast

By Solua Middleton

Australia's first community-based breast milk bank is hoping four mothers in every 100 can donate breast milk to help build a reserve for emergency events like fire, drought, floods, and now a global pandemic.


Founder and director of the Mothers Milk Bank, Marea Ryan, identified the urgent need for a reserve after seeing gaps around recent emergencies.


"We've launched a project to gather as much breast milk as we can, so that we can have an emergency reserve of breast milk with the emergency services in each state for all these babies in need," she said.


Ms Ryan says initially they are looking to gather at least 100 litres per month, but eventually the goal is to build up to 100 litres a week.

"We need four mothers in every 100 breastfeeding mothers to give us one feed a day," she said.

"Within two years we will have enough milk for all babies in that first week of life."

Ms Ryan says one of the increased demands for milk is from mothers who have developed gestational diabetes during their pregnancy.


A side effect of the disease is delayed milk for the mother. "We know these babies are going to need extra breast milk in those first weeks which is so critical for these babies," she said.


Key points:

  • The human breast milk reserve will be for emergency services to distribute across Australia

  • The breast milk bank is looking to gather at least 100 litres per month, but eventually the goal is to build up to 100 litres a week

  • The bank says screening measures have been enhanced, but any viral infections in a donor would be destroyed in the pasteurisation process

Immediate and ongoing need

For Rachel Miller, having access to breast milk for her son River was essential.

Rachel Miller with her husband Daniel and son River. Rachel developed gestational diabetes and uses the milk bank to supplement her low supply.

Ms Miller was one of those mothers who developed gestational diabetes and a delay in her milk coming in.


Her biggest concern was that because she had developed the disease, her son was now at an increased risk of developing diabetes later in life.


Donated milk from the Mother's Milk Bank was offered to her and she said it helped her to get through.


"It meant the world being able to have access to that milk," she said.

"[Formula] doesn't set him up or give him the health benefits. "We feel a little bit more easy knowing we've got that option there and he's going to be set up with his immune system going forward."


River is two weeks old and Ms Miller is still utilising the Mother's Milk Bank as her milk supply still struggles.


"We're not producing enough milk to sustain him and to reduce his chance of having diabetes, going forward, we need to keep him on breast milk as long as possible.

Stephanie James, a Lion's Club MMB volunteer, giving David Miller donor milk at the Gold Coast University Hospital


Coronavirus leads to new processes

There has also been an increase demand for donor milk since the arrival of COVID-19.

Ms Ryan says the milk bank's processes have changed to ensure donor milk is safe. "We have really good screening measures before we release the milk to make sure it is safe," she said.

Nonetheless, she said if there was any incidence of coronavirus or other viral infections in the donor it would be destroyed in the pasteurisation process, "the same as other milk with pasteurisation".

Founder and Director of the Mother's Milk Bank pictures with a pouch of powdered breast milk can be sent to mothers anywhere in the country, or even the world, particularly in times of strife or disaster.


For now, babies benefiting from the bank's donor milk are limited to the east coast of Australia, but Ms Ryan hopes the rest of the country will soon have access thanks to new technology.


Donor breast milk can now be turned into powdered milk through high pressure processing.


"There's so many babies in vulnerable communities that we're unable to reach," Ms Ryan said.

"We'll be able to change that so all babies in Australia will be able to have access to the milk when they need it."
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