Medical experts urge launch of Flemish breast milk bank


Two medical experts have launched a plea for the creation of Flanders’ first breast milk bank ahead of the World Breastfeeding Week

Two banks in Brussels

Two medical specialists have urged the establishment of centralised milk bank in Flanders that can collect and donate breast milk across the region. They made the call ahead of the World Breastfeeding Week, which begins August 1 and ends August 7 and see experts across the world campaigning to raise awareness about the importance of mother’s milk.

Milk banks allow women who’ve recently delivered a baby to donate surplus breast milk and collect and redistribute this donor breast milk to prematurely born or sick infants whose mothers are unable to provide any or enough of their own breastmilk.

Currently, there are two breast milk banks in Brussels but none in Flanders. Veerle Cossey, a neonatologist at the University Hospital of Leuven (UZ Leuven), said the time is ripe for a Flemish milk bank. “Every week we are contacted by mothers who want to donate their breast milk,” she told De Morgen.  

Logistically speaking, she said, UZ Leuven could open its own milk bank. “But you need money to organise something like this,” she added.

Cossey said the establishment of one centralised breast milk bank for the entire region would greatly reduce costs for the hospitals who wish to participate in the effort.

“This is worth the investment, especially in the long run,” added Serena Debonnet, president of the Belgian Association of Lactation Experts. “Breast milk not only has a positive impact on prematurely born babies with intestinal infections, but also benefits immunity and brain development and helps prevent lifestyle diseases like diabetes.”

The World Health Organisation’s guidelines recommend that prematurely born children be given donor breast milk rather than infant formula when their mothers aren’t able to produce sufficient breast milk.

The federal agency Superior Health Council has also previously recommended establishing local milk banks. In a 2016 report, it wrote that any donor milk should be rigorously screened to minimise the risks of bacterial and viral infections.

In a response, caretaker federal health minister Maggie De Block said that prematurely born children should be encouraged to exclusively drink breast milk. But she told De Morgen that the next government should decide on the potential establishment of a Flemish breast milk bank as well as guidelines for its safe operation.

Photo: Belga / Jonas Roosens

Health-care system

The health-care system is federally organised in Belgium. Competing health insurance providers and a proportional contribution-based system ensure that healthcare is accessible to virtually all citizens and costs remain relatively low.
Law - From the age of 25, Belgian citizens and residents – both employees and those self-employed – are legally obliged to have health insurance.
Insurance providers - The mutualiteiten or mutual insurance associations are typically Christian, liberal, socialist or independent.
Services - Refunds are given for services such as doctor’s consultations, prescribed medication and hospital care costs.
1 945

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to 75% of healthcare costs reimbursed by mutuality