A innovative scheme at Irvinestown Health Centre is proving that the milk of human kindness can save lives.
Ireland's only human milk bank is based in County Fermanagh. It provides breast milk to help premature and very ill babies in neonatal hospitals in the north, but will soon expand its service to the south.
One little boy who has benefited from the milk bank is Cahir Freehill. Born eight weeks premature, he began life in an incubator.
With three older children at home, and juggling feeding visits to the hospital, Cahir's mother Martina’s own milk supply dried up. Cahir was put onto formula, and reacted badly to it. Fortunately for him, the donor milk bank had been opened one month earlier in nearby Irvinestown. Martina was touched that an action from an anonymous donor would help her baby,
One of the women who was feeding Cahir was from Belfast, and her wee baby had died, and she felt to help her cope with it, she wanted to save another baby, and I thought that was such a wonderful thing for somebody to do.
Co-ordinator and founder of the milk bank is midwife Anne McCrea. She explains how breast milk can be liquid medicine for tiny premature and sick babies,
We know that if you provide neonatal units with this milk, then it helps prevent things like septicaemia, pneumonias, but it also helps protect the children’s gut against a condition called neonatal necrotizing enterocolitis which can actually be life threatening for premature babies.
There are some restrictions on who can donate, and donated milk is pasteurised and quality checked. Hilary Phair manages to be a donor while still feeding her own six month old twins,
It’s not costing me anything, maybe a little bit of time, but what’s say five or ten minutes a day. That’s nothing if it’s helping a very weak baby survive.
An RTÉ News report broadcast on 17 February 2003. The reporter is Anne Marie Smyth.