Health Ministry asks NII to establish breast-milk bank

With the lack of an official bank, some women have purchased frozen breast milk via the Internet, said the two MKs.

January 16, 2017 01:13
3 minute read.
A VOLUNTARY breast-milk bank here would cost just NIS 2.5 million.

A VOLUNTARY breast-milk bank here would cost just NIS 2.5 million.. (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE PHOTO: REUTERS)

Two MKs have presented a private members’ bill to require the Health Ministry to establish a regulated and supervised breast-milk bank.

For decades, the ministry has promised to establish such a facility, but so far it has failed to do so. In May 2014, it even issued guidelines for the establishment of one or more breast-milk banks that would freeze, pasteurize then refreeze donated milk for consumption mainly by premature infants and babies born with congenital or other gastrointestinal defects whose mothers could not breastfeed and who did not digest commercial formula well.

Asked to comment, the ministry said it decided previously to set up such a bank and “even allocated NIS 1 million for its establishment.” It noted that breast-milk banks abroad are not run by the government “so we must find an organization that will operate it.”

The ministry added that two weeks ago, it asked the National Insurance Institute to cooperate on establishing such a bank. “We hope that a legal way to help establish such a bank can be found,” it said.

Dr. Lisa Rubin, who heads the maternal and child health department, said almost three years ago that she hoped such a facility could be established “in less than a year.” She visited a number of the 13 breastmilk banks in the US, but she conceded she has not visited the unknown number of voluntary breast-milk banks set up by ultra-Orthodox women over the decades.

The new bill was presented by UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler and independent MK Orly Levy-Abecassis, who is head of the forum for premature babies. She said numerous countries have opened mother’s milk banks, but not yet in Israel. Some women who have extra breast milk have informally donated it to their friends’ or relatives’ infants, but this can be dangerous, as breast milk can spread various serious diseases from HIV/AIDS to hepatitis B and C, as well as bacterial diseases.

In 2005, then-health minister Dan Naveh declared in honor of Breastfeeding Encouragement Week that his ministry would help establish a mother’s milk bank to feed the then-700 premature babies born with gastrological conditions that deteriorate with commercial milk formula and whose mothers could not breast-feed. But nothing came of that either.

The Knesset even passed a law in 2006 “establishing a national mother’s milk bank” but it was never implemented.

With the lack of an official bank, some women have purchased frozen breast milk via the Internet, said the two MKs.

Until the discovery of HIV in the early 1980s, a few groups of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) women who had recently given birth would supply extra milk to premature infants of other women who could not breastfeed and/or those who suffered from necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). This condition, which is believed to occur in between 1%-5% of neonatal intensive care unit patients, is the most common and serious gastrointestinal disorder among hospitalized premature infants.

The babies, whose immature bowels are sensitive to changes in blood flow and prone to infection, may develop NEC. In severe cases, a hole may develop in the intestine, allowing bacteria to leak into the abdomen and cause life-threatening infection.

Rubin said in 2014 that donors would not be paid for their donations and mothers of recipients would not have to pay for them. The donor would have to undergo blood tests every six months, but abroad, most women donate for only about four months.

The cost of establishing such a bank here, according to the MKs, is just NIS 2.5 million.

The voluntary Lahav organization said the ministry “recognized in 2014 the importance of such a bank but found no solution to the problem of transferring the funds for such a project.” It congratulated the MKs for their initiative.

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