Victoria has written a blog to share her experiences of milk donation, there are lots of babies who need breast milk but aren’t able to get it from their Mum, and the milk bank at Birmingham Women’s Hospital is reliant on donations from Mum’s like Victoria to keep up supplies.
My fridge freezer has been home to some unusual items over the last 4 months. My husband is patient. Items are very clearly labelled. You see it started with the upcoming home birth of our third baby. I pre prepared lots of sanitary pads coated in aloe Vera and lavender oil, stored in the freezer – excellent for a post birth perineum! Then there was the cord tie – we didn’t want to use the plastic clip so my plaited silk was sterilised and awaiting the freezer. Immediately after the birth a very clearly labelled box in the fridge contained my placenta while we awaited to have it encapsulated and then over the newborn weeks I had an Abundant milk supply, I was expressing off between 3 and 9 ounces a day.
Well you see after having my first baby I really struggled to breastfeed her, we introduced formula too soon and my milk supply plummeted so despite feeding my second baby well I was still frightened that I wouldn’t be able to feed my 3rd properly. It was a worry I needn’t have had though, my little milk monster knew exactly what he was doing and he knew exactly how to keep my milk supply ample so my ’emergency measures stash’ – bags and bags of milk in the freezer – increased beyond ‘personal use’. Now this stuff really is liquid gold. Breast milk really is utterly incredible stuff so I couldn’t bare the thought of – I shudder at typing it – throwing my milk away!
My health visitor had suggested donating it to our nearest milk bank at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. She provided me with the details and I gave them a ring. I was excited at the prospect of my milk helping babies that for one reason or another don’t have access to breastmilk. Situations where for example a baby is born premature and the mothers breasts haven’t started producing milk yet, and that baby needs as much support as possible in the form of antibodies proteins and nutrients only found in breastmilk, or if a mother is on certain medications or needs certain treatments that mean she can’t feed her own baby and again those babies need as much support as possible. I’m fully supportive of choice and never want to open up the dreaded breast versus formula debate, but no formula can compare to the magic components in breastmilk, the antibodies etc just cannot be mimicked in formula and for babies that where very early or poorly they need these more than ever and that’s why donating breastmilk is so important.
Because most of the babies being dealt with are newborns the milk bank ask that you register to donate milk before your own baby is 4 months old and that you donate any milk before 6 months old. This is because your breast milk changes to accommodate the needs of your growing baby and so if your own baby is over 6 months the milk will be tailored to an older baby and not as ideal for a newborn.
The milk bank sent out a questionnaire to make sure I was a suitable donor. The key features being that you don’t smoke, are taking no medication, don’t drink excessive alcohol and don’t consume excessive caffiene.
Because the milk is collected by the amazing voluntary blood bike service they require a minimum donation of 2.5 litres. It sounds like a lot but I aimed to express 100ml per day (which was really easy). The milk bank sent batches of 12 X 100ml bottles for me to fill. The pre-sterilised bottles fitted straight on to my expressing pump so I only had to worry about sterilising the pump itself so it didn’t require much effort really. I labelled each bottle with the provided labels with my name and date of expressing on and I stored them in my freezer. I had to keep a daily log of my freezer temperature. Once I’d filled my first 12 bottles I just rang for another batch. My freezer started to get pretty full and I started to run out of space so I rang to arrange a collection.
Just to check I was carrying no diseases or anything that might compromise the milk I had to have a blood test at my GP, then the blood bike service came to collect my milk and take it straight to the Birmingham Milk Bank.
The milk is then ‘pasteurised’ to make sure it’s extra safe for the tiny babies who need it the most, but the pasteurisation process is done in such a way that it doesn’t compromise the magic components of the breast milk.
The whole process is really easy and the staff at the milk bank are so helpful. I would recommend any breastfeeding mums to donate. Not only does it feel amazing doing something to help but it’s also boosted my milk supply so I’ve got my ‘stash’ ready for when I go back to work for my own baby.
You can contact the milk bank on 0121 623 6870 on Tuesday’s Wednesday’s and Thursday’s (or leave a message and they call you back) or you can find out further info here http://www.bwnft.nhs.uk/services/neonatal-2/donor-milk-bank
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