King Edward Memorial Hospital is calling for mothers with babies to donate their breastmilk to combat the current shortage.
The hospital is supplying breastmilk to premature babies less than four months old whose mothers struggle with their milk supply.
Clinical nurse specialist in the hospital’s PREM Bank Tracey Sedgwick says making sure babies get a sufficient amount of breast milk is critical for their early development.
“A mother’s own milk is always the most important part of any baby’s journey for nutrition, and when that’s not always available, especially in preterm vulnerable infants, donor milk is the next best option for their growth and development,” she says.
Being born premature often means babies’ organs aren’t fully developed and don’t provide the necessary protection against infection.
Ms Sedgwick says once the babies get older they can transition onto formula, but in the early stages it is important they receive natural breastmilk.
“Once these babies reach a certain age, which is about 34 weeks corrected, and their guts have matured, then they can transition to formula and be ok, but not before that,” she says.
Tiny Sparks WA is a charity for high-risk pregnancies, and babies born sick or prematurely, which works closely with a number of hospitals in regard to neonatal care, in particular King Edward Memorial Hospital and its breast milk donation program.
Co-founder of Tiny Sparks Amy Bates says they help facilitate some of the donation process with the hospital, by providing cooler bags for donors.
“One of the support programs that we run is the care package program, where we supply families with a cooler bag so they can transport express breast milk into the hospitals,” she says.
King Edward Memorial Hospital is aware there are other informal milk-sharing sites in the community. Ms Sedgwick says there are clear dangers in this and urges people to only donate and receive breastmilk through the official milk bank.
“We pasteurise the breast milk, in which we heat it up to 62.5 degrees, which kills off bacteria and viruses as well as testing the milk before we cook it,” she says.
The call comes just after world breastfeeding week, which ran during the first week of August.
Naomi Hull is the senior manager for breastfeeding information and research for The Australian Breastfeeding Association and says it’s important that families are educated and have the right support when needed in regard to breastfeeding.
“We help make sure that mothers and families are provided with accurate breastfeeding information when they need it,” she says.
With many mothers unable to produce breastmilk for a number of reasons, including medications or stress factors, the necessity for more donors to help with the shortage is apparent.
Ms Bates says it’s important for premature babies to receive natural breast milk in order to help with their early development.
“It really supports those tiniest infants to have the best start to life possible, and is used as a preventative health measure for some serious conditions,” she says.
New donors are able to sign up if they have a baby under four months and think they’re eligible by visiting the King Edward Memorial Hospital website, they are then referred for medical testing and lifestyle screening. Once approved, they are able to start donating with pumps and storage bottles provided by the hospital.
In 2022, King Edward Memorial Hospital had 85 donors, feeding up to 400 babies a year, totalling more than 1,000 litres of milk.
For more information regarding breastfeeding: The Australian Breastfeeding Association’s website