Victoria, Australia has its first breast milk bank, enabling sick and premature babies to get a firmer grip on life.
Breast milk is vitally important for the new born as it provides, besides nutrition, specific proteins and sugars that build immunity and fight infection. It also gives protection against necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), a fatal condition where part of the gut tissue dies.
As Melissa Italia, a 28-year old mother of twins born 11 weeks early, says, "Breast milk over formula is a great start to life for any baby."
Donors will be women who produce too much milk and they will not be paid. They will be screened for infections such as hepatitis C and HIV; their milk is then checked for bacteria, before being pasteurised. Once it is confirmed that the milk is sterile it will be given to needy infants born before 32 weeks gestation and with a birth weight less than 1500g.
Although the bank's head, Dr Gillian Opie has said that the milk would be available only for patients at Mercy Hospital for Women, Heidelberg, it is hoped that the service would expand to meet the needs of other infants in Victoria.
"The bank will help many very premature babies to achieve the best possible start in life," she said.