Hutt Valley DHB Logo

(04) 566 6999

Published Thursday 7 Mar 2024

Meet Leah, the Milk Bank coordinator at Wellington Regional Hospital

Started in 2021, the Wellington Regional Hospital Pataka Miraka Mother’s Milk Bank is one of only four of its kind in Aotearoa.

It was made possible by Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Milk Bank coordinator Leah Baddeley, and the Wellington Hospitals Foundation – which, through the generosity of donors, provided more than $306,000 to assist with set-up and operation costs.

Donated pasteurised breastmilk is important for feeding sick and premature infants when lactating parents do not have a sufficient milk supply for their infant’s nutritional needs.

The milk bank was Leah’s passion project and has been a significant step forward in supporting NICU’s vulnerable infants. As part of International Women’s Day we caught up with her to learn more about the milk bank and what the day means to her.


Tell us about your role.

“So here at Wellington I started off as a Registered Nurse in NICU and I'm now a lactation consultant and the Milk Bank coordinator.

As a lactation consultant I support mums with expressing, breastfeeding their babies, maintaining milk supply and we obviously have the extreme preterm babies that can have really difficult times with their feeding, so we support the mums through that.  

With the milk bank we have donor milk, so it's donated by breastfeeding mothers who all go through really intense screening processes. Our donors have a health and lifestyle screen which we can easily do over the phone and if that’s all clear, they are required to have blood screening done too. Once we have all the bloods results back, we contact our donors to let them know if they can donate and we arrange dropping milk off to the milk bank. Our donors can donate up until their baby’s first birthday. We pasteurise the milk and we have that available for our sick and preterm babies. The donated milk is pasteurised within three months of being expressed, then after pasteurising it is frozen and has a three month use by date - not that it lasts that long to use it up!”


Why did you choose a career in healthcare? 

“I've always wanted to be a nurse. From about the age of 16 I knew I wanted to be a NICU nurse. Once I qualified in the UK, I got a job in NICU and I very quickly realised infant feeding was where my interests were.  I became the infant feeding lead on the unit and then moved to Wellington NICU in 2017 where I was given the opportunity to follow my passion.”


What do you love most about your job? 

“It's a real privilege to be involved in someone's journey with a sick new-born baby. They leave the most precious thing in their life in your hands when they can't be there and it's a real honour to be involved in. It's quite cheesy, but it's true!”


What does a typical day look like for you at work? 

“Depends which role I'm in, whether I've got my lactation hat on or my milk bank hat on.  

The milk bank is lots of admin, screening donors, making sure they get their bloods done, getting all of the information packs out to them, getting the milk pasteurised, making sure we have the microbiology results back and lots of chasing results. I do research ensuring our practice is as good as it can be, I also like to link in with my milk banking colleagues fairly regularly.

When we process milk for other units, we make sure that's all good for use, packaged and shipped correctly. We currently pasteurise milk for other units when their donor is Cytomegalovirus (CMV) positive. CMV is a virus that many people have been exposed to and usually have no idea as symptoms can be mild; these are often a sore throat, fatigue and swollen glands which a healthy immune system fights off easily. Milk from a CMV positive donor can’t be used unpasteurised but CMV is destroyed during the pasteurisation process. By supporting other units in this way we are able to help have more stock of donor milk, this can have a massive impact on a family’s journey through NICU/SCBU. When our stock levels are good and another unit contacts us for milk we do our best to help them.

My lactation role involves going around the unit to support mums where they need us and checking in with mums that have been there for a long time because when they've been expressing for so long they will hit a wall and we support them through that. With the new mums, it's making sure that they get on expressing early or get baby to the breast and really give them the support they need to get their milk supply up and running.”


Do you find are there any differences between people's cultural backgrounds with how that happens or is it all kind of the same process? 

In relation to breast feeding it’s generally the same process for all women; it really depends on what is happening for the baby and the family.

Within the milk bank, all donors go through the same process regardless of cultural background however we do have some culturally specific practices such as disposing of breast milk for any reason, our donors are given the choice about having it returned to them for them to dispose of or if they want the milk bank to do it on their behalf, this is part of the consent process.

We have a diversity of cultures come through NICU and the needs for them are very different and you also have the individual needs of each family.”


What's your biggest work achievement? 

“Definitely setting up and running the milk bank. We didn't have one in Wellington for a long time. I got the role of the lactation consultant and setting up the milk bank. My manager did the business case and made sure the equipment was ordered, then I spent the first couple of months just making sure everything was done correctly and all the policies and protocols were up-to-date. 

It's just that achievement to say yes, I did this. It's very much my baby. 

It was set up thanks to the Wellington Hospitals Foundation and the incredible generosity of its donors.

We got the funding the end of 2020 and I started the role in January 2021. We did our first pasteurising cycle in May 2021 and we've been rolling since then, so we are still very new. 

Being able to take that stress away from mums, when in their early days they're unwell or they're on medications where they can't give their babies milk, they know there's that safe stepping stone to when their milk supply gets up. Having this support means maternal stress really reduces.”


What would you say to someone who wants to start a career in your role? 

“NICU isn't for everyone, but if you find it is your space, it's amazing. It has its good times and its bad times. Just give it a try; it's not all about cuddling babies!

We are an intensive care unit at the end of the day, so we do get those really sick babies that you have that real intense period of looking after and then you see them getting better and bigger and then eventually going home. It's really nice.

If you have an interest in infant feeding, you can become an International board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) or a peer support councillor/breastfeeding advocate. Being able to support mothers on their breastfeeding journey is wonderful and very fulfilling.”


How do you get through the challenging times? 

“Fortunately, in my role now I don't have a hands-on role in those difficult times, but previously it would be you have a good cry, you talk to your colleagues, and you talk to your loved ones. I'd usually go to the gym or walk the dogs or eat a block of chocolate. You learn how to cope with that during your career. In the early days, everything is just soul destroying and it's really difficult to carry on with your day, but you learn to put your professional face on, although it doesn't mean it doesn't affect you the same.”


What does International Women’s Day mean to you?  

“It’s a day of recognition and showing what women are capable of. We're not just at home cooking and looking after the kids or career women, most of us do both. We do have children and we do have households, and yet we have successful careers and it's to show that we can do that. Ignore what anyone else says; if you want to do it, you go ahead and do it”. 


What's it like being a woman working in healthcare? 

“That's all I've ever known. It can be hard, especially if you’re working shifts and you're raising a family. It can be difficult balancing everything, but most of the nursing workforce is female, so we all kind of support each other. It does get a bit tense at times but generally it's awesome”.  


How do you see your work empowering or helping women? 

“In my role helping women, helps them have a better breastfeeding journey.  Knowing that they've got that support from us, and we can then pass that support on to the community to continue to help them empowers them as a mother and a woman and a person in their own right to say I did this, I fed my baby - only I did this for my baby”.  


What are your hopes for the future for women in healthcare? 

“I hope women continue to break the mould and be heard, and have equitable pay and opportunities within all levels of healthcare. We should have our voices heard loud and proud.

In my career I’m going to keep supporting milk banking. Milk banking throughout New Zealand is really important to me. There's only four milk banks in the country. There's a hospital based one and community based one in Christchurch, and there's a community one in Palmerston North. There's nothing above Palmerston North, so I'm currently working with Middlemore Hospital to try and get them a milk bank so they can support the upper North Island. That's been my passion project for the past month or two, just supporting them because they knew that they wanted it, but they didn't quite know where to go.  

Eventually there will be a national system linking all the milk banks where we can support all new-born babies, not just NICU babies or post-natal babies and make that milk equity national.

A lot of our mums who use the donor milk in the beginning then go on to be donors because we've been able to support them through their journey.”  


If people want to donate to the milk bank, how do they go about that?  

“They can drop me an e-mail at Pataka Miraka Milk Bank or they can drop me a text on 021 199 8493. They can ring NICU and whoever they speak to can just flick me a message.”  

Financial donations can also be made to the milk bank through the Wellington Hospitals Foundation.