Harpenden milk bank celebrates first birthday
PUBLISHED: 14:34 07 August 2019
A Harpenden milk bank which has provided donated breast milk to over 1,000 babies has celebrated its first anniversary.
Donors of breast milk and families who have used Hearts Milk Bank recently marked the occasion with a picnic in The Pavillion at Rothamsted.
The picnic also coincided with World Breastfeeding Week between August 1-6, and was supported by the Human Milk Foundation (HMF), which works to help more families feed their babies with human milk.
Mums who sign up to Hearts Milk Bank volunteer to express their extra breast milk.
The milk then gets biked by SERV volunteers to mothers whose babies can use the milk. Some of those are infants in hospital, others have the milk delivered to their home.
New mums who can't breast feed are particularly keen for their baby to benefit from the goodness of colostrum.
Colostrum is the first stage of breast milk which occurs during pregnancy and lasts for several days after birth. It is much thicker than the milk that is produced later in breastfeeding.
Colostrum is high in protein, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and immunoglobulins.
Milk Bank co-founder Dr Natalie Shenker said: "It was fantastic to bring together so many people who support the HMF and Hearts Milk Bank every day, but also the families we work with.
"There were mothers meeting each other who won't know whether that mum donated milk that helped her baby, but have had the chance to say what a difference it made.
"That was massively inspirational for the whole team, and will launch us into our next year."
The milk bank won a Point of Light award earlier this year and was described by former Prime Minister Theresa May as "a pioneering service that is transforming access to surplus breast milk across the UK".
One of the milk donors, Flic, said: "I produced more milk than my baby needed, so it was wonderful to be able to donate this to the Hearts Milk Bank so it could go to tiny babies in need and support families through difficult times."
Parents Jo and Chris received donor milk for their twins who were born prematurely.
Jo said: "Having donor milk lifted such a huge weight from me. Sitting in the obstetric close observation unit, desperately trying to express my own milk, fluid restricted due to dangerously low sodium levels and unable to visit my babies was horrendous.
"When Chris arrived with the cooler containing the donor milk I sobbed with relief and gratitude. Donor milk meant that I could be sure my premature babies would be fed with milk from a human mother, and they would be getting the benefit of the rich and vastly varied composition of breast milk whilst protecting their tiny and immature gut.
"I guess what I'm saying is that donor milk made the difference between despair and hope. It gave me space to breathe and heal.
"It was estimated we wouldn't be home until after their term date, we came home three weeks early. There's no doubt a good part of their speedy trip through NICU was down to human milk."
Yulia and her family also believe the milk bank is something to be celebrated. Her baby received donor milk as Yulia was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma during pregnancy so could not breastfeed when her son was born.
She said: "I don't know how to pick the right words to explain how much your help meant to us! Not only did you make an impact on our son's healthy start in life, you also helped us to fight through the cancer!"
The World Health Organisation says breastfeeding promotes better health for mothers and children alike.
Increasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels could save more than 800,000 lives every year, the majority being children under six months.
Breastfeeding decreases the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It is estimated that increased breastfeeding could avert 20,000 maternal deaths each year due to breast cancer.
To donate please visit www.humanmilkfoundation.org.