Posted on March 10, 2011

Breast Milk Donation by Lorraine Berry

breastfeeding

During March & April our special topic here at Mummy Loves is Breastfeeding. We will be having lots of breastfeeding related guest posts, reviews & giveaways! If you are interested in contributing a guest post, item for review or giveaway then please email me at thismummyloves@gmail.com

To kick off we have a guest post on Breast Milk Donation by Lorraine Berry of Birth Affinity. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Lorraine! I really hope it encourages more Mums to do the same!

I’m sure many mums are aware of how important blood doning can be, and many of you will have regularly attended donation sessions to give blood and be aware of what this involves.  I wonder, though, how many breastfeeding mums have considered donating their milk, an equally vital fluid for poorly babies?

Being a midwife from a baby-friendly award winning hospital, there wasn’t much doubt in my mind that breastfeeding was going to be the right choice for me and my babies when I had them. After the initial stages of working out how to do it for real (instead of helping someone else!), a few days of sore nipples and engorgement (yes it was tough going at times!) I found breastfeeding a total joy, really easy, no faffing around with sterilising or powder in the middle of the night…it was great! I expressed milk with both my first two babies to pop in the freezer for when I had a night out / working etc but when the time came that they stopped breastfeeding, I still had several bags of frozen milk that simply got poured down the drain. It felt like such a waste, especially having worked in a special care baby unit and seeing how vital breast milk can be for premature and sick infants.

For my healthy babies, breastfeeding was a normal extension of pregnancy, birth and beyond, but for poorly babies breast milk is really like a medicine. The benefits of protection against infection is vitally important for the little ones born too soon, or too ill to have a good immune system, and they are particularly susceptible to a condition known as Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC). This life threatening condition is found almost exclusively in babies that are born prematurely and given formula milk, instead of breast milk. However, their mums can often be too poorly to express their own milk, or there may be other reasons why their own mother’s milk cannot be given to baby and this is when donated milk is gratefully used.

When I became pregnant again, I was determined to donate my “extra” milk so it could be used to benefit other babies too. My first stop was to find out how feasible it was going to be to donate as breast milk banks are not in every hospital, so I went to the uk breast milk donation website http://www.ukamb.org to find out where my local bank was and how to go about donating. The details of my nearest donation coordinator were easy enough to get off the website and I contacted her for the next step. This involved completing consent forms and repeating the bloods I had done antenatally to ensure that the milk was going to be suitable to give to the babies (this was because the bank is at a different hospital to the one which I was booked to have baby with. If I had given birth under the same hospital, the bloods wouldn’t need to be repeated).

The bank could supply storage bottles, but it was fine for me to use the pre-sterilised storage bags I already had. The milk could be frozen for up to 3 months before it needed to be delivered to the bank in time for pasteurising. I used my electric pump to express each side for 5 minutes a day and whatever amount I got went into a storage bag, labelled and into my freezer until I was ready to take a delivery up to the unit. The amount I got varied from 2-8oz, but as babies often start on tiny amounts of 1ml or less, there us no minimum amount for donation (just 1 ounce of milk can feed a premature infant for 1 1/2 days!)

You can express as often or as little as is convenient, so some days I missed out as we were too busy, or out and about. If you or your baby are ill, then you will want to miss these days out too. Also, if you are on medication, (other than asthma inhalers or contraceptive pill) you need to wait 48 hours before making a donation. You can, however, have a small amount of alcohol and continue with donations.

I continued to express donations for about 5-6months. Most breast milk banks stop accepting donations after this time as the constituents of breast milk change as your baby grows, so early breast milk is more suitable for premature babies.

Some banks have a collection service if you live local to the hospital, but as I live about 45 minutes from my bank I had to make the deliveries myself.  I only needed to make one trip to the bank though, and as it was in Cambridge, I made the most of my visit going to the shops there!  The Neonatal unit was very busy when I made my delivery, which made me realise how important a good supply of breast milk donations is.

My experience of breast milk banking has been really positive. For a minimum amount of effort and organisation, I have been able to donate a life saving “medicine” with no pain and no major fuss or inconvenience. I did have to find out a lot of information for myself, and think that it would be so much better if we were able to give this information to every breastfeeding mum. I think it is well worth the extra little bit of effort in order to help mums and babies that are having a more difficult and uncertain start to life.

For more information go to http://www.ukamb.org

Lorraine Berry
Mum to three breastfed boys
BSc (Hons) Registered Midwife, Natal Hypnotherapist

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