Donor milk needed to deliver healthier futures for preterm babies

22 May 2024
Donor milk needed to deliver healthier futures for preterm babies

A world-leading Centre for Research Excellence that was launched in Adelaide today needs additional human milk donors to help deliver on its mission to improve health for preterm babies.

The Centre for Research Excellence in Human Milk Nutrition for Preterm Infants will be led by SAHMRI Women and Kids Theme Leader, Professor Alice Rumbold.

She says the Centre will have a significant focus on undertaking research to explore the benefits of donor milk, a valuable resource in high demand for infants in need.

“Our ultimate goal is to reduce the burden of prematurity-related cognitive and physical impairment on children, families and society,” Prof Rumbold said.

“We’re working with families and health care providers to improve breastfeeding support after birth and a big part of the picture is optimising the use of donor human milk when a mother’s own milk is not available.”

Mothers with a preterm baby often have difficultly establishing a milk supply. When this occurs, donated milk is essential to help very preterm babies grow and prevent health complications, including a type of gut infection called necrotising enterocolitis that can be fatal.

Australian Red Cross Lifeblood runs a donated human breast milk service and is calling on Adelaide mothers who fit their criteria, to become new milk donors, and help meet South Australia’s milk quota for preterm babies.

Lifeblood Milk Service Manager, Chris Sulfaro, says the state’s demand for donor milk is the highest it’s been since the service started.

“In Adelaide, we need three new donors every week who produce more breast milk than their babies need,” Ms Sulfaro said.

“We already distribute 100 bottles of milk (14 litres) to three hospitals in South Australia a week, and we’ll need an additional 700 bags of milk over the coming year.”

The additional demand will largely be driven by the GIFT trial, which is one of the Centre’s major projects. The GIFT Trial will examine the health and economic impacts of using donor milk, instead of infant formula, as a supplementary source of nutrition for babies who are born four to six weeks early and don’t have enough mother’s own milk available.

The need for donors to meet detailed criteria means not all new mums can be eligible. Those who do match the criteria can express, freeze, and store their breast milk in their own home or in hospital. Donations are then collected by Lifeblood’s milk donor coordinators, who provide support throughout the process.

Lifeblood currently supplies approximately 4,000 litres of pasteurized donor human milk each year to hospitals across Australia, with that figure to grow over coming years.

Read more about the CRE on their website

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