More babies in Wales will benefit from the arrival of a new electric vehicle to support donor milk collections.
Last year Swansea University and Swansea Bay University Health Board announced a partnership with the Human Milk Foundation that saw a donor milk hub set up in Wales for the first time.
The hub, located in Swansea’s Singleton Hospital, allows more sick and premature babies in the region to receive donor milk in neonatal intensive care units, and enables local women to donate their surplus milk, many of whom have not been able to do so previously.
Now the service is expanding, thanks to the project’s newest delivery – an electric car that will support donor milk deliveries and pick-ups across south and west Wales.
Made possible by funding from Research Wales Innovation Fund, West Herts Charity Trust and the John Apthorp Charity, the EV will be used to transport larger quantities of donor milk to and from the hub and to the main Hearts Milk Bank HQ where it is pasteurised and screened. This will give more mothers the opportunity to donate milk, help to reduce the hub’s carbon footprint, and build resilience into the service.
Professor Amy Brown, Director of the research centre for Lactation, Infant Feeding and Translation at the University facilitates the hub in Swansea. She said: “The charity Blood Bikes Wales, who provide a free courier service to the NHS, play a vital role in helping transport donor milk across Wales. However, bikers are limited in how much milk they can carry. The EV means that we can work alongside each other to collect larger or multiple donations in one go.”
Dr Natalie Shenker, co-founder of the Human Milk Foundation said: “When babies are born sick or too early, receiving human milk helps protect them against severe infections and supports their growth and development.
“Often these babies are born too soon to be able to breastfeed and need to be fed expressed breastmilk. If the baby’s mother is unable to provide enough of her own milk for health reasons or because she is struggling to make enough milk right away due to a difficult birth, donor milk can act as a bridge giving the mother time and support to establish her own supply. Without the kindness of milk donors this would not be possible, and we are delighted that the EV will make it easier to donate milk in Wales.”
Professor Brown added: “We have a team of volunteers who will be driving the car to support this life-changing service. You won’t miss it if it drives by – it was specially designed using the vibrant HMF indigo and white colours, featuring the components of human milk and the charity’s emblem of a snowdrop, known as the milk flower.
“Snowdrops represent love and hope and the flower is used to honour the special mothers who choose to donate milk to help other families after the death of a baby.”
The car design was printed by the Human Milk Foundation’s charity partner Epson UK and sustainably wrapped using water-based resin ink and PVC-free media.
Blood Bikes Wales milk manager Paul Harvey said: “Blood Bikes Wales is very proud to support, and be associated with the Singleton Milk Hub and would like to congratulate the Human Milk Bank and Swansea University on the fantastic acquisition of their new electric car.”
Since the hub’s launch, more than 100 women have donated more than 250 litres of milk. Among them is Gayatri Cook, from Carmarthenshire. She said: "The Hearts Milk Bank team are a wonderful, friendly, supportive team.
“It’s fantastic that we have a donor milk hub in Swansea now, I get a lovely feeling when my donated milk is collected by the wonderful Blood Bike volunteers, and it gets to the hub in less than an hour. It means a lot to me knowing the milk I donate is taken care of will be beneficial to any babies that might need it.”
The health board’s volunteer service manager Katie Taylor said: “Volunteers will be undertaking an extremely important role in supporting with more collections and deliveries, meaning donor milk reaches even more babies in need. We are extremely grateful for the support of the support that will be provided by the Human Milk Foundation volunteers, they will make a huge difference.”
Find out more about the work of the Human Milk Foundation and Blood Bikes Wales and email if you would like to become a donor.