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Breastmilk banking and the Mercy Health experience

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Breastmilk banking provides an alternative to infant formula, not a substitute for mother’s own milk

Breastmilk banks collect, process, store and distribute donated human milk for hospitalised premature and growth-restricted infants. Pasteurised donor human milk (PDHM) as an alternative to artificial formula when mother’s own milk is unavailable is not a new concept. Before infant formula became widely available, milk sharing and wet nursing were common practices in Australian maternity wards in the 1940s. Concerns regarding transmission of infectious diseases in the 1980s saw breastmilk banks fall out of favour. With improved screening, storage and handling procedures, and evidence surrounding the importance of breastmilk in human development, breastmilk banking has re-emerged as a viable option when the supply of mother’s own breastmilk is insufficient. Insufficient supply may occur because of maternal illness, medications or difficulties in establishing or maintaining lactation. Some 450 breastmilk banks exist internationally and the numbers are rising.

Infant feeding guidelines from the World Health Organization1 and the National Health and Medical Research Council2 recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. When this is not possible, the alternatives are either expressed donor breastmilk or formula milk. Given that artificial…