July 30, 2014 2:50 pm

IWK hospital banks on scanning system to track breast milk

HALIFAX – The IWK Health Centre recently unveiled a new scanning system it hopes will allow for better tracking and storage of breast milk within its facilities — the first such system in Atlantic Canada.

The $100,000 system uses barcodes and scanning devices to help nurses and milk technicians ensure breast milk is properly received, store and prepared.

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After moms express breast milk (collect it for future use), it’s stored in bottles, which are labeled with a barcode. The bottles are then stored in either the milk fridge or freezer.

Milk technicians are responsible for dividing the breast milk into various portions for the baby, and sometimes additives or electrolytes are added.

The breast milk and a barcode on the baby are scanned to ensure they are a match, and nurses also visually double-check the labels with the mother. Only when the system reveals the barcodes are identical does the baby get fed.

Darlene Inglis, the manager of the NICU at the IWK, said the hospital decided to bring in the system due to the rise in breastfeeding.

“Our volumes [of breast milk] have increased a great deal — just the sheer volume of utilizing breast milk in this way, and to safely handle, store and inventory it was really important,” she said.

Inglis said there have been a few times in the past where a baby received breast milk from the wrong mother.

“We’ve had a couple of adverse events like that in the last few years. It is rare, but on average, probably about once a year,” she said.

Milk technician Lindsay Kraitberg said the new system is streamlining her work.

“It makes tracking the breast milk and preparing the breast milk just really easy,” she said.

“When I want to find a certain bottle for a baby, I can just select the name and it tells me where those bottles are, so whether it’s in the milk room fridge or freezer or maybe it’s in the NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit].”

Inglis said the system also eliminates the possibility of breast milk getting left behind at the hospital once the baby is discharged.

Mother Jennifer Greenough of Lower Sackville describes the new system as comforting. Greenough’s daughter Quinn was born about three months premature and is still in the NICU.

Every three hours, Greenough uses a breast pumping machine and fills bottles with breast milk for her daughter.

“It gives me a sense of security,” she said. “I see them scan [the label] at her bedside. When the nurses scan it, they get me to check the label with them to make sure it’s the correct number, that it is my name and that [Quinn] is my baby.”

Greenough said that she has a lot on her mind with a baby in the NICU but the breast milk tracking system gives her one less thing to worry about.

“[The doctors and nurses] are letting me see them scan it and they’re double checking it with me. It makes me feel involved and it gives me that extra sense of security,” she said.

“What this tells me is they’re paying attention. When you have a baby in the NICU, you don’t want any mistakes.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

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