South West’s first milk bank up and running

The South West’s first human milk bank will be officially opened at Southmead Hospital on Tuesday, November 1 at 10.45am.

The milk bank is based at Southmead’s maternity unit and will supply donor breast milk to premature babies in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. As the milk bank develops, the aim is supply donor milk to other units across the South West.

The donor milk will be collected from healthy, screened mums who have a plentiful supply and, after testing and heat treatment, will be given to premature babies whose own mothers are not able to produce their own milk.

Local people and businesses have raised the money to create the milk bank through the Precious Drops Campaign which was launched in May 2008. This has raised just under £75,000.

Marion Copeland, Infant Feeding Midwife at Southmead Hospital, said: “This really is a fantastic day. Thank you to everyone who raised money for the Precious Drops Campaign. It is great to see a milk bank up-and-running again at Southmead Hospital.

“Breast milk is the natural and best source of nutrition for human babies.

“It can be life-saving for sick and preterm babies but sometimes a mother is ill or unable to provide milk for her baby.

“Donor milk can be a vital step to giving that baby a healthy start. Milk banking occurs all over the world - it reinforces the importance of having breast milk available for every baby, and encourages mothers to persevere if breast-feeding is difficult.

“There used to be a milk bank at Southmead, but it closed at a time when the importance of breast milk was less well-recognised.

“With our ever-improving ability to keep tiny preterm babies alive, the need for breast milk to be always available has never been greater.”

Blood bike charities have rallied to support the new milk bank. Since 2010, SERV based in Oxford and Freewheelers EVS based in Bristol have transported milk free-of-charge from the Oxford milk bank to the Southmead NICU.

At times when supplies were short, they have transported milk supplies from as far away as Chester. With the launch of the Southmead milk bank, the blood bikes will continue to provide free transport services.

They will also provide a donor collection service, visiting donor's homes to collect frozen donated milk and deliver it to the Southmead milk bank for testing and pasteurisation.

This will be achieved using either their motorcycles, or a dedicated Volkswagen Tiguan 4x4 that will allow milk to be collected from several donors in one journey.

The blood bikes have been supported by a number of organisations prior to the milk bank launch.

In May, Mike Burns and Paul Lowe led 70 cyclists on a sponsored ride from Newcastle to Plymouth to raise money to buy motorcycles.

Lorraine Jarvie, General Manager of Hotel du Vin in Bristol, has led a fundraising campaign within the Hotel du Vin and Malmaison group, to buy the Tiguan 4x4. The hotels also provided en-route accommodation to the cyclists. 

Matt Burke of City Financial in Bath, who took part in the cycle ride, has bought a BMW R1200RT motorcycle. Lions Clubs from across South West England, and the Moose International lodges in Weston-super-Mare and Winscombe, have together funded over 100 specially designed insulated boxes, enough to give a box to every donor, which will be used to transport the milk and ensure it remains safely frozen for up to five hours during its journey to or from the milk bank.

Why we need a milk bank

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF recommend that all babies are

breastfed. The health benefits of breastfeeding, both for mothers and babies are now well documented.

Southmead Hospital has full accreditation under the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative, demonstrating its commitment to a high standard of support for women in initiating and establishing breastfeeding.

Sometimes it may be difficult or impossible for a woman to breastfeed her own baby. Some of the reasons for this are:

  • In a premature delivery, a mother’s milk supply may not become established enough to provide milk for her baby
  • Sometimes the stress of caring for a very ill infant can affect the milk supply
  • A mother who delivers twins or triplets might not have enough milk supply to nourish all of her babies
  • Some medicines taken by the mother for a health problem, such as chemotherapy for cancer, can harm a baby
  • A mother might have a health problem that prevents her from breastfeeding or makes it impossible for her to produce milk.

Support for re-establishing a milk bank in Bristol comes from committed hospital staff, volunteers, and breastfeeding support organisations such as the National Childbirth Trust, La Leche League and the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers.

How the milk bank works

The equipment which makes up the milk bank includes:

  • Two large laboratory grade freezers
  • A human milk pasteuriser
  • A fridge
  • A laminaflow cabinet which enables us to bottle the milk in a clean air environment.

The milk bank process works with donor mums expressing milk in their own homes which is then frozen – this is collected by Freewheelers and brought into the milk bank and defrosted.

The milk is then pasteurised by a process called holder pasteurisation. This means that the milk is held at a temperature of 62.5 degrees for 30 minutes.

The milk is then frozen again.

Samples of milk are then sent for microbiological testing before and after pasteurisation and once we have clear results the milk will then be passed for use.

Becoming a breast milk donor

The milk bank will accept donations of milk from healthy mothers who are breastfeeding a baby under six months of age.

Potential donors will be asked to come into the milk bank to answer questions about their health and lifestyle they will also be asked to give a small sample of blood to ensure no infections will be passed on through the breast milk.

For more information about the milk bank and to enquire about becoming a milk donor, please log onto the website at or email