Breastmilk bank celebrates 10 years

Wednesday, 03 March, 2021

Breastmilk bank celebrates 10 years

More than 1000 sick and premature babies have been fed precious breastmilk donated by new mothers since the Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank opened its doors. Grateful families, thriving children, generous breastmilk donors and committed Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank team members gathered at Melbourne Zoo to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the service.

The Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank, located at Mercy Hospital for Women, is Victoria’s only breastmilk bank providing sick and premature babies in Melbourne’s neonatal intensive care units (NICU) with safe, screened and pasteurised milk.

Stephanie Brebner and her daughter Abigail — who was the recipient of donated breastmilk when she was born at 28 weeks and three days — joined the celebrations. Abigail, now five years old, has a memorable and poignant middle name, her mum said.

“As we prepared for the emergency caesarean section at 28 weeks and three days, my husband and I were terrified,” Stephanie said. “We didn't know if our child would survive. At that moment, we decided to give her the middle name ‘Hope’ because we were so hopeful we would hear her cry, her heart would beat, and that she would one day thrive. We knew we were about to be in for the biggest fight of our lives.”

And thrive she did. Abigail started prep school this year and is a happy and active little girl. Stephanie will be forever grateful for the gift of donated breastmilk for her baby, and now the professional photographer regularly gives back to the hospital, photographing babies in the NICU every Christmas.

“At the time of Abigail’s birth, I didn't know about all the benefits of breastmilk and was a bit hesitant to use another mother’s milk to feed my child,” Stephanie said. “But then and there I knew I wanted to give my daughter the best chance at a happy and healthy life so agreed to receive the milk.

“We are so grateful and want to say a huge thank you to the Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank and all the breastmilk donors for giving my daughter your liquid gold, your time and generosity, and the best possible start in life.”

In recent weeks, Hobart’s Lenka Hlavacova became the Breastmilk Bank’s most prolific donor, having donated an incredible 100 litres of milk. Lenka’s beautiful baby girl, Poppy, is currently unwell at the Royal Children’s Hospital but the devoted, big-hearted mum recognises what a precious gift breastmilk is for sick and preterm babies.

“I think it is an amazing concept that my milk might be able to assist other unwell babies,” Lenka said. “I believe in karma and I just hope that by trying to do a good turn, it might also help Poppy.”

Lenka missed the event due to her two-year-old Rozi feeling unwell, but her contributions will always be remembered by the Breastmilk Bank’s team.

Founder and Director of the Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank Dr Gillian Opie said the aim of the service is to make sure every child has the best start in life.

“When a mother’s own supply is low, donor breastmilk is the next best option,” she said. “It has unique infection-fighting proteins that are not available in infant formula and human breastmilk is easier for a baby to digest than formula produced from the milk of animals or plants.”

The Mercy Breastmilk Bank is hoping to expand the service across Victoria. Donations to the Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank Appeal can be made through the Mercy Health Foundation to help purchase equipment such as freezers and pasteurising machines.

Image caption: Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank’s record donor, Lenka. Image courtesy of Mercy Breastmilk Bank.

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