NICE issues guidance to promote safety standards for donor breast milk
The practice of donating breast milk to milk banks has been around for over a hundred years, and while many aspects of the banks have changed beyond recognition since the early days, the principles remain the same.
The banks exist thanks to the generosity and kindness of mothers who are willing to donate their breast milk. They can provide a vital lifeline for sick and premature babies when their mother's own breast milk is unavailable.
There are currently 17 milk banks across Britain which are run mainly by individual hospital trusts.
NICE has now published a clinical guideline on donor milk banks to provide recommendations on the safe and effective operation of such services, and to help ensure that good practice is consistent across the UK.
Recommendations includescreening all potential breast milk donors for diseases including HIV, hepatitis and syphilis; ensuring that all milk is pasteurised to reduce the risk of any potentially harmful bacteria being passed on; and that all equipment used in milk handling and processing is regularly inspected using the manufacturer's instructions.
The announcement of the guideline will be welcomed by Gillian Weaver, milk bank manager at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in London, and others involved in providing this essential service.
Ms Weaver, who is a member of the NICE guideline development group, has spent the last 21 years working tirelessly at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Milk Bank. The bank was founded in 1939 and holds the title of being the oldest continually operating milk bank in the world.
She believes that the time is right for a NICE guideline on donor milk banks and feels that it will be a “valuable stepping stone” towards developing better donor milk bank services.
“The reputation of NICE, and the knowledge that all available evidence is considered together with the wide ranging expertise of the development group, will enhance the confidence for doctors and families who require donor milk.
“The guidelines currently in use were published by the United Kingdom Association for Milk Banking (UKAMB) and needed revising and updating, but the process of developing a NICE guideline involves far more scrutiny and expertise than the UKAMB could provide.”
“Having NICE guidance on donor milk banks will be seen as a stamp of approval for the use of donor breast milk and will, I am sure, mean that milk banks have a sound basis on which to expand. I would expect trusts to follow the NICE guidance.”
When doctors see that milk banks are operating according to the NICE guideline, they will be more inclined to include donor milk as part of their feeding protocols, says Ms Weaver.
“Another very positive aspect of the guideline is the recommendations for training for milk bank staff, “she adds.
Under the guideline, all milk bank staff should have ongoing training that is relevant to their job and is recorded. Training should cover good practice and should ensure that each member of staff is competent in performing their job and aware of how the milk bank is organised and how its health and safety and quality systems work.
Ms Weaver also feels that the NICE guideline could play a major role in helping to raise awareness of donor milk and the opportunities to become a breast milk donor and ensure that milk banks like hers continue to receive their daily deliveries of breast milk.
“The guidelines come as a complete package which includes additional information to help milk bank staff implement them, but also information aimed specially at mothers who are thinking of donating. We don't have anything like this at the moment to help explain to mothers what to expect when becoming a breast milk donor. It makes the whole process clearer for mothers who want to donate.
“With this guideline in place, we can now move towards the development of services that can better meet the national requirements for donor milk.”
This page was last updated: 12 July 2010