I know this post will be completely off topic for loads of you – but I would be really grateful if you can help me raise awareness on something I feel passionate about by reading it anyway, passing it on by retweets and Facebook, to get it in front of as many mums and mums-to-be you know who may not have thought about this. Thank you.
Since Max was 3 months old I’ve been donating my breast milk to pre-term babies, who can often struggle to digest formula milk. I want to point out not all preterm babies struggle, and this is not a “breast milk vs formula” post.
What I want to raise awareness of is about how easy it is to donate to your local Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and how much they really really need your milk, if you are in a position to give it to them. Any healthy, illness free, lactating woman whose baby is under 6 months can donate.
Nearly 8% of babies are born preterm in the UK, and the number is rising. Often the Mums of these babies will hope to be able to provide their own breast milk for their babies, but it can be anything from extremely hard to impossible depending on the situation that led to the preterm birth. If they are unable to provide breast milk, their babies will be fed on either donated breast milk, or specially formulated (non human) milk. As these tiny babies (some of the ones I’ve seen are under a pound, to give you an idea) can sometimes struggle with digestion, breast milk is used when possible by NICUs to help them out. Now, I’m no scientist nor a fact bank – so if you’d like to know more on that side please speak to your local NICU.
What I do know is that for the last couple of months I’ve been the only donor for my local NICU in Medway, and sadly as I have to stop now (after 6 months of lactation, your milk constitution changes and it is no longer suitable for such young babies) they will need to find more donors to continue to offer the families they are looking after the option of breast milk for their babies. Sadly, they have no resources to advertise so word of mouth is all they can hope for. This is the same up and down the country, from my talks with the wonderful Maureen at neonatal unit in Medway.
I first heard about donating breast milk when I had finished breast feeding Nemi. I came across it when I realised I often had more milk than she needed and ended up with quite a store in the freezer just to stop my boobs exploding! By the time I looked into actually doing it though, it was too late – so I vowed to pick it up with my second. With Max, I looked into it at 12 weeks when I felt breast feeding had become established. There is a great website called UKAMB which can tell you all about it, and help you find your nearest donation accepting hospital.
All it takes to donate your milk is a couple of blood tests, and then they will provide you with storage bottles and all the information you need to get cracking. My local unit even comes and picks it up from my house! Chances are if you’re a breast feeding Mum at 2-3 months+ you’ll already have things like breast pumps you will need, or know how to express your milk manually. If not, it is so easy to learn, and once you get into the swing of it becomes a very small part of your daily routine. Definitely don’t let that part put you off!
If you think you can spare a few ounces or more of your milk a day to your local NICU, please do give them a call. They will be so grateful to hear from you, and you’ll be making a big difference to some really small new humans who have had a tough start. With Max, I just switched his 6pm breast feed to formula and donated that feed to the NICU. It helped me donate a lot of milk to them quite quickly and also gave me a positive thing to think about as he took his pre bed bottle. Breast feeding mums will understand that 6pm feed is a total pain and is often best coming from a bottle due to the cluster feeding witching hour!
If anyone reading this would like to talk to me about donating their milk, I’m very happy to share any details and help where I can. You can email me by clicking here.