Tara's Thoughts

Breast milk bank: a worthy investment

November 01, 2018

The ACT needs a milk bank

Imagine a tale of two Canberra parents.

A mother named Moira. And a mother named Lucy.

Moira has just given birth to a healthy baby girl. Moira made a decision a long time ago that she would breastfeed her new baby. She’s aware of all the evidence out there that breast milk helps provide a great start in life to an infant. She’s determined to provide this great start to life to her child.

Moira has a problem with breast milk supply – it’s that she’s got too much of it. Moira feels alone and worried – and uncomfortable. She regularly expresses and stores her breast milk, but soon the freezer is full. She’d like to donate her breast milk, but she doesn’t know how to go about it. Moira finds herself pouring excess breast milk down the sink. She hates that it’s wasteful.

Lucy has also just given birth to a healthy baby girl. And like Moira, Lucy also made a decision to breastfeed her baby, for exactly the same reasons.

Lucy also has a problem with breast milk supply, but a very different problem: her supply is not enough for her growing baby girl. She too feels alone and worried. Lucy resorts to formula as an option but would prefer to be providing her child with breast milk. Lucy would gratefully receive the gift of breast milk from another mother, but she doesn’t know anyone she can ask.

Moira and Lucy might not be real people, but their stories are very real. In fact, there are hundreds of Moiras and Lucys right across Canberra right now. I know this because they’ve reached out to me – dozens and dozens of parents. Parents with breast milk they’re keen to donate and parents who would be very grateful for those donations.

And there have also been parents who have reached out who have been more fortunate than the Lucys and Moiras. Parents who were able to connect with other parents – friends or strangers – to donate and receive through informal arrangements.

But whatever the situation, all of these parents have stressed that there’s a key piece of the puzzle missing – a central location where parents can donate and receive breast milk. Where that milk can be stored, screened and pasteurised. A milk bank.

It’s not a new idea. Milk banks exist around the world, as well as in other jurisdictions in Australia. Indeed, the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children in Woden receives donor milk, for very limited situations, from a milk bank – but that milk bank operates in Tweed Heads.

With plenty of supply and demand right here in Canberra, it makes sense that we look into whether a milk bank could be established here – or as a partnership with a neighbouring jurisdiction.

This week I called on the ACT Government to do exactly that – and was backed with the support of our entire parliament.

It just makes sense. A milk bank is a worthy investment.