The Perks of Breast Milk

By Anthea Batsakis

Young people in Victoria have been racking up a fuss about breast milk as they introduced a bill in Youth Parliament that would force all Victorian hospitals to have donor centres.

They say breast milk is a perk for sick or premature babies who need the nutrients when the mother isn’t able to provide her own milk.

Currently, Mercy Hospital in Heidelberg is the only place in Victoria that provides breast milk donor services.

And the exclusiveness of the donations – only women registered with Mercy Hospital can donate and only patients of Mercy Hospital can receive donations – mean breast milk donations are poorly addressed.

Mercy Hospital head of unit Dr Gillian Opie said it’s always best for a baby to have their own mother’s breastmilk.

“Breastmilk contains human specific sugars and fats along with a range of proteins that modulate the immune response of the infant,” she said.

“This is vitally important for premature and sick babies.”

But why are high-school aged people concerned?

As the State Government ministers milk the phrase “the children are our future”, the teens follow suit with a nod to the bubs.

Mater Christi College refuting team member Elissa Tifere, 16, said since they represent youth in the YMCA Youth Parliament program, they’re also responsible for representing the youngest of us all.

“Our infants are our youth, so we need to be looking all the way back to the start of the life cycle and addressing those health concerns,” Elissa said.

“We as youth want to address, not just the youth of 16 to 25, but all ages because it is an issue.”

They also said they’re in a position to lobby for real change as the lack of breast milk donations is not addressed until mothers find themselves unable to breast feed.

But by then, potential change is too far away for their hungry babies.

The problem is in the timing: breast milk nutrient levels change at different times of day and at different development stages of the baby.

A refuting team member even called it a “logistical nightmare”.

“Breastmilk is extremely specific to that child you’re breast feeding,” Elissa said.

“Providing breastmilk from different parents and at different developmental stages doesn’t give the full span of nutrients required to help provide a healthy baby.”

Moonee Valley Council sponsoring team member Tessa Buchanan, 18, said she felt the bill’s debate in Youth Parliament made their bill stronger.

“I feel the debate went really well. The opposition really gave some arguments I hadn’t even thought about, which really influenced one of the amendments,” Tessa said.

But are the complicated logistics enough reason to dismiss the potential to give sick babies a health kick?

Tessa said with the right amendments to the bill, she doesn’t see why it shouldn’t pass through State Parliament.

Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank has plans to expand their services to other Victorian hospitals, according to Dr Gillian Opie.

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