Breast milk bank: When mothers donate milk for premature babies

Breast milk is the best food for infants. And premature babies in particular, whose mothers do not yet produce enough milk, are dependent on this food. That is why there are breast milk banks in hospitals. Here we explain how this concept works and who is allowed to donate.

The concept of the breast milk bank has existed for decades. But while there were still more than 170 so-called breast milk collection points in Germany in about 1959, today only 15 hospitals have these facilities.

Breast milk bank: why are there so few?

  • While breast milk is undeniably the best food for infants and babies, doctors in the 1970s believed that milk substitutes were just as good. So several hospitals switched to infant formula and no longer needed human milk collection points.
  • In the 1980s, many mothers were afraid that their babies could be infected with HIV through breast milk from other mothers. Since the virus can certainly be transmitted in this way, more and more clinics closed their breast milk banks at this time.
  • A breast milk bank is associated with high costs for a hospital. All milk must be tested for diseases, viruses and bacteria and kept sterile. Only a few hospitals are willing to afford this financial and time effort today.

Why do premature babies need breast milk?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed until they are six months old. Although our body is already preparing for breastfeeding during pregnancy, milk production only gradually begins towards the end of the regular 40 weeks.

If your baby is born too early, it is not only too early for the development of your child, but also for your body. Therefore, many mothers of premature babies are simply not yet able to provide them with their own milk.

As current studies and tests show, contrary to what was believed in the 1970s, breast milk is best suited for premature babies. “In addition to many valuable nutrients, breast milk also contains substances that strengthen the body’s defenses and accelerate the maturation of the intestinal wall,” confirms Prof. Andreas Flemmer, Head of Neonatology and the Breast Milk Donor Bank at the Perinatal Center in Munich-Großhadern, to medela . Especially intestinal inflammation can quickly become life-threatening in premature babies.

“The aim is to provide the very youngest children with breast milk that is as raw as possible right from the first day of life. The premature babies are supplied with donated milk until the mother produces milk herself.”

The milk is fed to the little ones through a stomach tube when breathing, sucking and swallowing are still difficult.

Who can donate?

Even if every mother produces milk, not every mother can also become a donor. Donations may only be made by those who meet the following criteria:

  • Your own child is younger than four months. Depending on the age of the baby, breast milk also changes – it then provides other or more nutrients than before, which are not yet suitable for premature babies.
  • The mother does not consume alcohol, drugs, nicotine or pharmaceuticals.
  • Infections and diseases are excluded (this applies above all to AIDS and hepatitis).
  • The mother has not weaned yet.
  • The mother is willing to donate a certain minimum amount of milliliters per day. Because a premature baby is best supplied with milk from a donor for the duration of his stay.

Depending on the breast milk bank, it is possible that there are additional criteria. In addition, the blood of the donors is tested beforehand and regularly during the process. To ensure that your milk is safe for the baby, it is taken to the laboratory before it is frozen to be microbiologically checked for viruses and germs. If everything is in order with the milk, it is carefully labeled and frozen for a maximum of six weeks.

The donors then express their milk in the respective clinic under the supervision of a lactation consultant. This takes a maximum of 15 minutes, as it is pumped on both sides. We will inform you here about important questions about pumping.

How expensive is breast milk from the bank?

Parents of premature babies do not have to pay any costs for third-party breast milk. However, this does not apply to parents who approach a breast milk bank from outside. A liter of breast milk can sometimes cost up to 50 euros.

On the one hand, this price results from the effort that the clinic puts into making really clean and healthy breast milk available. On the other hand, this is because the demand for foreign breast milk is higher than the supply. There are simply not enough breast milk banks in Germany to cover every need.

Worrying trend: breast milk exchanges

As a result of this shortage, so-called mother’s milk exchanges have now been formed on the Internet. Mamas send their excess milk to the suppliers for money, who then sell it on.

Breastfeeding associations and paediatricians expressly warn against buying other people’s milk for their own babies online. Because such providers can hardly guarantee perfectly suitable breast milk.

Your baby’s health should always come first. If you have problems with breastfeeding and your child is not really full, breast milk substitutes can sometimes be the salvation before you turn to breast milk exchanges on the Internet.

By the way, most breastfeeding problems can be solved and after a short time you can provide your baby with your milk again. Here we explain what you can do, for example, if you produce too little milk.

Breast milk banks in Germany

Where is the nearest breast milk bank? The baby-friendly pharmacy publishes a list of breast milk banks in Germany every year. The following hospitals and clinics have so-called milk kitchens, breast milk banks or breast milk collection points in 2018:

  • Berlin: Charité – Clinic for Neonatology (dairy kitchen)
  • Chemnitz: Clinic for paediatrics and youth medicine in the Chemnitz Clinic (breast milk collection point)
  • Cottbus:  Clinic for children and youth medicine in the Carl-Thiem-Klinikum Cottbus (women’s milk bank/milk kitchen)
  • Dortmund: Dortmund Clinic, Perinatal Center
  • Dresden:  Clinic and Polyclinic for Paediatrics, University Hospital Carl-Gustav-Carus (dairy kitchen)
  • Eisenach:  Klinikum St. Georg (dairy kitchen)
  • Frankfurt/Oder:  Klinikum Frankfurt/Oder (breast milk collection point)
  • Freiburg: Freiburg  University Hospital, Clinic for General Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine
  • Görlitz:  Children’s Clinic in the Görlitz Clinic (dairy kitchen/women’s milk collection point)
  • Halle (Saale): University Hospital Halle (Saale) (Human Milk Bank Halle)
  • Hamburg: University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf
  • Jena: Jena University Hospital, Clinic for Children and Adolescent Medicine (Women’s Milk Bank Jena)
  • Leipzig: University Hospital for Children and Adolescents (Human Milk Bank)
  • Magdeburg: University Hospital Magdeburg
  • Munich: Clinic of the University of Munich

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