Photo by David Ghione
Nurse Herklotz has been working on the fifth floor of the Ernst von Bergmann clinic in Potsdam for 26 years now. She’s part of the three-woman team running Dr. Radke’s milk bank, a lab-like mini dairy factory processing some 1000 litres of human breast milk each year. Some of the milk has been donated to help mothers who are unable to breastfeed, but the big bulk of it originates from mothers to feed their own premature infants, who are cared for by the clinic.
With all the cooking pots, the milk bank looks like a kitchen – but more sterile.
You have to take all the necessary health precautions, washing your hands… we wear green hats… everything has to be super clean.
How many litres of milk go through here every year?
In 2011 we processed 1003 litres of mother’s milk. We distinguish between mother’s milk (Muttermilch) and women’s milk (Frauenmilch). Women’s milk refers to the milk that is donated, so we don’t confuse them. Last year 95 litres of women’s milk were consumed.
The mother’s milk is only given to the mother’s own child?
Yes, as that milk isn’t controlled every day. It’s not brought into the microbiology department. The donated milk can be given to any child.
How many donors are there?
Seven or eight last year. It’s not many.
How does it work?
The milk is collected on a weekly basis. It’s about two to three litres per woman – some only get one. The donor’s child has to be fed and satisfied first. How much do women get for their milk donation? They get €10 per litre.
For how long can a woman donate?
Her own child can’t be older than three-and-a-half months, because the milk that she has is only given to premature babies, and the milk isn’t as nourishing as it is at the very beginning. It appears diluted, almost like water – it’s light blue. Do you sometimes have too much? If we have too much milk frozen here, then we send the milk to Rostock or Leipzig, where they really need it. We sell them the milk. It used to be €40 per litre; now Dr. Radke said he’s taking €80.
Does human milk have an expiry date? How long can it be frozen?
Half a year – from the date it was pumped.
Ernst von Bergmann, Charlottenstr. 72, Potsdam, S-Bhf Potsdam Hauptbahnhof, Tel 0331 2415 928