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Wednesday, 20 May, 1998, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Banking on the breast
Bottles of breast milk
All the milk is treated before it is given to babies
Breast feeding mothers should be encouraged to donate some of their breast milk to 'milk banks', according to a new organisation being set up in the UK.

The Association for Milk Banking says there is a need for donated milk where a mother is unable to feed her own baby.

This happens when the mother is sick or baby has been born prematurely and needs to looked after in a special care unit. There used to be around 70 milk banks across the country, but fears over HIV in the 1980s meant the number fell to only 13.

Gillian Weaver sitting at a desk
Gillian Weaver says the milk protects against infection
Queen Charlotte's Hospital in West London started its bank 60 years ago when a mother gave birth to quads.

Today, Gillian Weaver runs the bank. She says the breast milk can give a premature baby a head start in life: "Breast milk is best for all babies, but for the babies we are feeding, it's largely the fact that the milk is easy to digest and absorb; and it helps to protect them from infections."

All the milk given to the bank is now screened. It is stored in a freezer before being given a bacteriological test. It is then heat-treated and pasteurised.

Baby lying in an incubator
Premature babies would benefit from donated milk
Mother of three, Pam Wrigley regularly gives milk to the bank. She expresses the milk each day with a pump and stores it in the fridge before it is transported to Queen Charlotte's. She is delighted to help:

"The babies are so tiny, and I think the breast milk is the only thing that a lot of them can have when they're being fed down a tube. It's nice to know that I can help," she said.

Gillian Weaver says she receives calls from all over the country asking for spare milk supplies. She believes the time is now right for an expansion of the banking system. The new Association for Milk Banking says it will provide guidance and support for any hospital that wants to establish a bank.

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