Magen David Adom, in partnership with the Israeli Health Ministry, convened a conference for 200 medical professionals on the accessibility and provision of breast milk for newborns in need. The conference was led by MDA’s Sussman Family Foundation Milk Bank, located at its new headquarters in the Marcus National Blood Services Center in Ramla, Israel.

The goal of the conference was to raise awareness among hospital administrators and religious leaders about the importance of providing breast milk to premature infants. “For premature infants, breast milk is medicine,” said Dr. Sharron Bransburg-Zabary, head of the Sussman Milk Bank. It’s not a luxury for hospitals to supply; it’s a necessity, she explained.

Regarding religious concerns that sometimes arise, she said, “Milk is the common denominator that should unite us in saving lives, not separate us.” To that end, a session on the religious implications and concerns about donating and accepting breast milk from women who are not the babies’ birth mothers was held.

The panel included four heads of religions in Israel: Chief Rabbi David Lau; head of Sharia Courts, Qadi Eiad Zahalka; head of the Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Dr. Yousef Matta; andQadi Abu Ayash of the Druze Religious Court. All the panelists equally praised and encouraged the provision of what is often a lifeline to premature infants.

“It is amazing to be able to provide the wonders of creation in the best way possible in order to provide for children,” said Rabbi Lau. Both the donor and recipient “should rejoice, and may you receive heavenly blessings.”

The head of the Islamic court raised one concern that children who receive milk from the same mother are considered siblings. “Any children who have nursed from the same mother cannot marry each other,” said Qadi Eiad Zahalka. “But it is very important that we should have the milk bank and keep a registry of the donor mothers so that when the children marry, we can ensure they are not closely related.”

For many reasons, mothers of premature infants are often unable to provide their own milk. Over the past two years, MDA’s Sussman Milk Bank has supplied more than three and a half tons of milk to premature babies.

Breast milk provides critical nutrition and antibodies to preemies, many of whom can’t tolerate any other food source because of their underdeveloped digestive and immune systems. MDA identifies and interviews potential donor mothers across Israel, and picks up, tests, pasteurizes, stores, and distributes the milk to hospital neonatal units.