Breast milk banks have now been running for over 100 years. The first human milk bank opened in Viena en 1909.
In the UK, milk banking started in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital 75 years ago with the birth of the first surviving quadruplets, who were born at home 7 weeks early. The Matron at Queen Charlotte’s got the new mums at the hospital to donate their milk which used to then be flown twice a day to Cambridgeshire, where the quads lived. This way their mum could supplement her own milk to ensure that the babies got enough. All four survived and suffered no ill effects from being premature.
Milk banks supply donor breastmilk to babies in neonatal intensive care units. The milk, collected from healthy screened mothers who have a plentiful supply, is then tested and heat treated. The milk is then given to special care babies whose mothers cannot supply their own milk. Anyone who wished to donate milk can do it and living near a breast milk bank is not always necessary (although you need to contact your nearest milk bank to find out). The milk bank will need to know that you are in generally good health and most will ask that your baby is under 6 months of age when you start donating. Breast milk is only suitable for donation to the milk bank you have taken no medications or herbal remedies in the 48 hours before she expressed. If you wish to read more about donating breast milk and medication you can read: Medication and donating breastmilk.
The United Kingdom Association for Milk Banking (UKAMB) is a registered charity that supports human milk banking in the UK. Their aim is the formation of a national donor breastmilk service that would supply infants throughout the UK according to priority of need rather than according to the chance location of an infant’s birth. There are currently 17 human milk banks in the UK with additional donor recruitment centres (sometimes known as satellite milk banks). To find out where your nearest human milk bank is you can visit the UKAMB website. You can also visit their Facebook page.
The government’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued in February 2010 a new guidance on Donor Breastmilk Banks: the operation of donor breastmilk bank services. This guidance (CG93) gives recommendations on how to recruit, screen and support women who donate breastmilk and how to handle and process the breastmilk that has been donated. However, it does not give recommendations on how to use or store that donated breastmilk or how to care for the babies receiving donated milk.