Ireland’s only breast milk bank in Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh, has warned that its supplies are running worryingly low.
The bank, which provides breast milk to Hundreds of babies neonatal units in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, has said there is only about two weeks of stock left.
The manager, Ann McCrea, spoke to BBC News, and appealed to breastfeeding mothers for donations, saying that in some cases, donated milk could mean “the difference between life and death.”
Ann also said that the breast milk bank was “one of the reasons” why more very premature babies are surviving.
“For these tiny, tiny little ones – breast milk is liquid gold, it’s liquid medicine,” said Ms McCrea.
“It’s human milk that gets their gut primed, it’s human milk that fights any infections that they can get. It constantly changes to fight all the new infections that they’re liable to have.”
Last year, the bank provided milk for more than 900 babies, an increase of 50 babies on the year before.
Many of the babies relying on the milk are premature, some at just 24-25 weeks old, and there has also been a huge increase in the number of twins, triplets and quads who are in need of extra milk.
Despite recent donor recruitment on breastfeeding social media groups, only one third of the milk bank’s freezers are currently full, which equals a two week supply.
How to donate
The bank says that donors are mothers who are breastfeeding their own babies of 6 months and under , but have excess milk and “are prepared to help other babies”, by donating some of their breast milk.
27 mothers contacted the bank in 2015, who had lost their babies and donated their milk in memory of their little one.
Donors are asked to provide a donation of at least 3 litres by the time their baby is 6 months old.
A full medical history is taken from all potential donors and all donations are screened, and donors are issued with pre-sterilised bottles so mothers can record their name and expression date on each bottle.
Expressed breast milk can then be frozen, and once donors have collected enough they contact the milk bank for a transport box which is then sent back to the bank deep-frozen.
It’s then sent on to hospitals and doctors who request it, and the milk bank also helps babies with major gut or heart problems by providing milk to their home.
If you think you are able to help, potential donors are being asked to contact the Milk Bank at firstname.lastname@example.org