27 Sep 2017

Breast milk bank considered for Auckland

4:59 pm on 27 September 2017

A breast milk bank - which would allow women to donate milk for mothers who are struggling to feed their babies - is being investigated for Auckland.

A mother holds a baby next to a bottle of milk.

Photo: 123RF

Auckland District Health Board has been considering the possibility and sent a survey to parents.

The survey asked just two questions - whether they would use donated breast milk for their babies, and whether they would they donate breast milk.

Canterbury has had a breast milk bank in its neo-natal intensive care unit since 2014, but it is the only one in the country.

Insiders at the DHB spoken to by RNZ welcomed the possibility, but the DHB would not make any official comment, saying only it had made no formal commitment to supporting a breast milk bank.

Mothers in Auckland who wanted donated breast milk now could find it through networks, many of them online.

However, that could be time-consuming and could have safety implications if the donating mother had not been screened for diseases.

A breast milk bank, like Canterbury's, would also provide a consistent, pasteurised supply.

Avoiding the 'milk hunt'

North Auckland mother Lisa Ashley's baby has a digestive disorder that means he screams for hours in pain if he has formula.

Ms Ashley has previously travelled more than 200km in a single day to get milk for him, and said it was terrifying to run out.

Though she has experienced huge generosity and kindness from donor mothers, it would be great to have a constant source, she said.

"It would mean a lot to mums who are constantly having to do what we call the 'milk hunt'," she said.

"Sometimes we have to travel great distances just to pick up a small amount, and that will last us a few days and then we're back on the hunt."

Emma Ryburn-Phengsavath co-founded the group Mothers Milk NZ, a social media network to connect donors and mothers, and said the DHB should stop talking about the possibility and just do it.

"There are so many mums out there who have got bucketloads of milk and there's the ones who are struggling to just get started or they've got a health issue, so to be able to give that donor milk to that mother is such a relief."

Longtime Christchurch midwife Yvonne Hiskemuller is fundraising to try to make a milk bank available beyond the current one in the neonatal unit.

She said it was expensive - about $250,000 to set up, and then about $3000 to process 16 litres a day - but it would be worth it for safe and available breast milk.

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