Open Access Research article

Feasibility and safety of setting up a donor breastmilk bank in a neonatal prem unit in a resource limited setting: An observational, longitudinal cohort study

Irene Coutsoudis*, Miriam Adhikari, Nadia Nair and Anna Coutsoudis

Author Affiliations

Department Paediatrics and Child Health, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:356  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-356

Published: 20 May 2011



The beneficial effects of human milk on decreasing rates of paediatric infections such as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and sepsis have been clearly demonstrated. Donor breastmilk has been encouraged as the milk of choice when a mother's own breastmilk is not available. The objectives of this study were to assess feasibility of providing donor breastmilk to infants in a resource limited Neonatal Prem Unit (NPU). In addition we sought to determine whether donor breastmilk could be safely pasteurized and administered to infants without any adverse events.


Low birth weight infants < 1800 g and under 32 weeks gestational age were followed up in the NPU over a 3 week period; feeding data and morbidity data was collected in order to determine if there were any adverse events associated with donor breastmilk. Samples of pasteurized breastmilk were cultured to check for any bacterial contamination.


191 infants met the inclusion criteria of whom 96 received their mother's own breastmilk. Of the 95 infants who were potentially eligible to receive donor milk, only 40 did in fact receive donor milk. There was no evidence of bacterial contamination in the samples analyzed, and no evidence of adverse events from feeding with donor breastmilk.


It is feasible to supply donor breastmilk to infants in an NPU in a resource limited setting, however staff needs to be sensitized to the importance of donor breastmilk to improve uptake rates. Secondly we showed that it is possible to supply donor breastmilk according to established guidelines with no adverse events therefore making it possible to prevent NEC and other side effects often associated with formula feeding of premature infants.