History of Milk Banks

Background Information around Human Milk Banking and Pi Astra

The Lancet Breastfeeding Series of 2016 highlighted the significant benefits for breastfeeding in high- and low-income countries alike. The health and economic benefits of breastfeeding are huge: increasing breastfeeding rates could save hundreds of thousands of lives and add hundreds of billions of dollars to the global economy each year. Increasing the rates of breastfeeding worldwide is a fundamental driver in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Breastfeeding plays a significant role in improving nutrition, education, and maternal and child health and survival.

When women are unable to provide their infants with breast milk, human milk banks step into the gap and provide pasteurised donated human milk. This is especially needed for preterm low birth weight infants, all the while supporting the mother to resume providing her own breast milk for her baby.

Commercial pasteurisers use the Holder method of pasteurisation, which heats the milk to 62° C and holds this temperature for 30 minutes. Research has shown that pasteurisation destroys potentially harmful bacteria and viruses (including HIV) and ensures a safe end product.  Although some of the good bacteria are also destroyed, many of the immune properties are minimally decreased and most of the nutrients are unaffected by the pasteurisation process.

Flash Pasteurisation is a high temperature short time (HTST) pasteurisation method used for heat treating donor milk. One type of HTST is flash heating, which imitates flash pasteurisation but can only do small quantities at a time. It brings the donor milk up to 72° C for approximately 15 seconds. This rapid heating for a short time is less destructive of properties in breastmilk and so is considered to be superior to other forms of pasteurisation. This flash heating method is used by Pi-Astra during the pasteurisation process.

Who regulates Human Milk Banking in South Africa?

The Department of Health has promulgated regulations which will control Human Milk Banks. Human milk is classed as a tissue and as such will be governed by the Human Tissue Act 65 of 1983.