Posted by PDG Liz Courtney
The year I was District Governor for District 9970 my focus was on Child and Maternal Health projects. A Rotarian and midwife, Yvonne Hiskemuller, suggested that we start the process of setting up a Rotary Community Breast Milk Bank.  Christchurch is the only centre in New Zealand that has an operating milk bank which is situated in the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and it provides donor milk to some NICU babies. We saw the opportunity to work with the hospital to reach a wider community need. This seemed a perfect fit for Rotary to become involved in such a project.
This project excited me as having had five children, the last three were triplets, I had breast fed all my babies and am passionate about giving all children the best possible start in life.  Our aim is to work with midwives in the community to provide easily accessible donor breast milk to babies who are needing a boost to thrive for whatever reason.
We are supported by the Rotary Clubs of Garden City, Christchurch, Papanui and Riccarton and have received a District Grant and sponsorship for equipment and set up costs from several Trusts, the NZ Midwives Association and personal donations. We are continuing to fundraise as the running costs are high and we are relying on donations.
When visiting one of my daughters in Perth I arranged to visit and speak with the Manager of the Rotary Breast Milk bank, Dr. Ben Hartman. Rotary set up a Milk Bank within the King Edward Memorial Hospital over ten years ago. This gave me the opportunity to understand the challenges and issues they have faced over time and what we needed to consider moving this project forward.
Some women have challenges in establishing and maintaining their breast milk supply and many would rather use donor milk before infant formula. Studies have shown that women are more likely to continue breast feeding with donor milk. Breast milk protects babies from gut, chest, ear and bladder infections because of immune factors in the milk and ongoing support for immune system development.
The World Health Organisation says donor milk is the next best thing for babies after baby’s own mother, and WHO suggest that human milk banks should be made available wherever possible saying that by providing donor human milk to babies will have a significant positive impact on short and long-term health of babies. We wish to ensure that all babies in need can have access to pasteurised donor milk for at least the first six weeks of life.
After gathering together a professional team of five including three Rotarians, a National Lactation Consultant, a Gynaecologist - Urologist and Midwife we worked for the last three years with the Canterbury Health Board Neo Natal Staff and St. George’s Hospital in Christchurch to bring this project together. We are very grateful to St Georges hospital who have given us a room in the hospital as they wish to establish and develop the project with us to link with their “culture of excellence” in the community.
The Rotary milk bank will initially be open one day a week to receive donor milk and to dispense it once it has been pasteurised. Eventually we envisage the milk bank being open 5 days a week. It will be staffed by volunteers many being Rotarians.
We are all very excited about the opening of the Rotary Community Breast Milk Bank and are looking forward to a productive (excuse the pun) time ahead.