Boost for breast milk banks
"When my second child was born in 2005, I got in touch with our newly-opened local milk bank about becoming a donor," says Shel Banks. "I just wanted to do my bit to ensure that every baby who needs breast milk can receive it, even if their own mother is not able to produce it for them."
Shel donated for just over 10 months and then, when her youngest child was born in 2007, she donated again for 12 months.
Mothers like Shel have been giving breast milk to specialist milk banks for over 100 years and, as she explains, it can "literally be a life-saver for sick infants."
Shel has also helped set up the Blackpool Mother's Milk Depot and now coordinates its donations. This supplies the Wirral Mothers Milk Bank, one of 17 major milk banks supplying hospitals around the UK.
Despite the fact that donating breast milk is a long established practice, some healthcare professionals are still unsure how breast milk should be handled, processed and stored. Also, until recently, mothers didn't really know what to expect when becoming a donor.
NICE recommendations published in February aim to clarify matters for both health professionals and mothers - as well as helping to maintain the current high standards of practice across the country.
We advise that all potential donors should be screened for infection and anyone who tests positive for diseases like HIV, hepatitis and syphilis should not give their milk. We also recommend pasteurising the milk to reduce the risk of passing on any potentially harmful bacteria.
In addition, both women who donate and milk bank staff should receive ongoing training and support - and the breast milk should be rigorously tested and safely stored.
The NICE guidance "makes the whole process clearer for mothers", says Gillian Weaver, who manages a milk bank at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital for Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London.
Shel Banks, meanwhile, hopes the recommendations will reassure healthcare professionals that donated breast milk is safe to use - and will thereby lead to donated breast milk being made more widely available to those who need it.
This page was last updated: 10 May 2010