Donating Breast Milk

Max is very pleased another baby is benefitting from the milk he couldn’t use.

I’ve mentioned briefly before that I donated some of my milk but I wanted to use today’s post to talk a little more about that process.

When I had my first, Alexandra, I wasn’t really aware about donating milk or even using donor milk so when I stopped breastfeeding we just switched straight to formula. Because I was so unwell I didn’t even express and so our journey with my milk was over – I went cold turkey and my milk dried up eventually.

With Max, I started expressing the day he was born despite the fact he was nil by mouth. I’m still expressing now so he’s having four bottles of boob milk a day and one of formula. Because he hardly drank anything in the early days when he was poorly, we ended up stocking up the freezers in both hospitals he was an inpatient at and when we fetched both batches we had around four litres of milk in our freezer.

My plan was to gradually use the freezer stock (as there’s obviously a time frame when you need to use it by) and replace it with ‘newer’ milk. This meant I could potentially stop expressing at some point but still give him boob milk from the stockpile. However at six weeks he was diagnosed with a severe dairy allergy which meant I had to cut out dairy and soya to carry on feeding him. It also meant we couldn’t use anything from the freezer as that had been expressed before I cut dairy from my diet.

The thought of throwing away my milk which had taken so long to get made me feel a little bit ill! So I began researching how I could donate it. The milk bank nearest us said they normally only took milk as an ongoing thing from moms who were breastfeeding but had an over supply but when I explained the situation they were willing to take the stash. However once they started filling in the paperwork they said it wasn’t possible for me to donate because I have had blood transfusions in the past. This for the same reason that I can’t now give blood – there’s no test they can do to rule out that you haven’t been given CJD (mad cows disease) from the blood so they ban you from donating in case you pass it on. Annoying but I can see why! Donated milk is extremely heavily screened before being sold to neonatal units.

So I turned to Facebook. I joined a couple of sites including one called Human Milk for Human Babies. I posted on there explaining how much I had to donate and some details (they ask you to include things like any medical conditions you have/medications you’re on, whether you drink etc). I got one really weird message but then within hours I got a comment from a lady who was pregnant and had supply issues with her previous two babies so was stockpiling donor milk so her new baby wouldn’t struggle with weight loss in the way they had.

The lady came to pick the milk up from us, which felt a bit weird at first giving someone what is essentially your bodily fluids! But once I met her and chatted to her for a bit I felt so glad it was going to be used and not thrown away! She’s now had her baby and keeps everyone (there’s quite a few people who’ve donated milk to them) informed on a Facebook page which is lovely. Because all the milk is labelled, she was even able to tell me they were using my milk the other day!

It’s lovely to know I’ve been able to help another family and it’s really changed my viewpoint on donor milk – in fact I feel a bit gutted I don’t have enough of a supply to regularly donate but I’m already having to supplement with formula.

To anyone out there with an oversupply – or anyone who knows they can’t breastfeed due to a medical issue but desperately wants to use breast milk, milk donation is definitely something worth looking into!

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x

Express Yourself

From a few weeks ago, but the expression on Max’s face is great!

So the time has come to talk about feeding! We all know the great breastfeeding/formula feeding is one of the big debates designed to make moms feel judged whatever side of the fence they fall on! You may also know if you’ve read previous posts of mine that I breastfed my daughter for just under a week before switching to formula, partly because she just wasn’t getting the hang of it and there was a worry she’d become jaundiced again and wasn’t putting enough weight on, and partly because I was very poorly.

This time round I’d decided I wanted to try and feed my son if I could. Then within hours of his birth he’d been transferred to NICU and was being attached to various wires and tubes so I was advised to start hand expressing and then on day 2 to start using the electric pump to build up my supply.

As it was, Max was partly tube fed for the first two weeks of his life while being nil by mouth on the other days. When it came to establishing feeding on day 15, I was told to essentially pop him on the boob and ‘see what happens’ although I was warned he was small so may not take to it. I tried on that day a few times but felt massively unsupported. I was sat in a room with a curtain around our section of it, trying to get this tiny poorly baby to attach himself to me. He was so tired he kept nodding off with the effort of it.

And I cried. I cried at every feed because it was bringing back all of the memories of trying unsuccessfully to feed Alexandra. I cried because I knew the only way we would get out of the hospital is if Max started gaining weight and he had to be having a substantial amount of milk to do so. I cried because I really didn’t know what I was doing – and neither did he bless him.

So when they gave me the option of feeding him from a bottle (still
my expressed milk), I took it. And he drank the entire thing straight away despite them saying he may struggle to do so because of his size. And from then on, I carried on expressing and giving him the milk from a bottle. I didn’t even try putting him on the boob.

When we were discharged a few days later, I knew his fast progress was because he’d taken to bottles so quickly and I wondered how much longer it would have taken for us to establish breastfeeding. Occasionally I thought I should have stuck at it longer but I figured he was still getting exactly the same milk, just from a different receptacle!

When we got home they said I could try breastfeeding there if I wanted to. Perhaps I would have done if he was my first but I couldn’t see a way to sit all day trying to establish breastfeeding when there was also a toddler to look after and SO many hospital appointments to attend. Probably once feeding was established, it would take less time than expressing but I couldn’t see a way we could get to that point?

Max is now on a mixture of my milk and a special Neocate formula since he was diagnosed with dairy allergy FPIES. I’ve donated the four litres of milk I’d got frozen from before I went dairy free. Max has 120ml every three hours which is a lot more than most babies his size, but he’s trying to catch up because he’s still the size of a newborn not a two month baby! So if I was able to express eight times a day I would probably be able to build my supply a little and solely give him EBM but it’s normally more like six times a day that I express and sometimes it has to be a quick five minutes rather than a full go, so that’s why we’re topping up with formula.

I don’t know how long I’ll carry on expressing. I felt like it was important for him to have my breast milk, more so because of him being prem and poorly. It would be SO much easier to transfer to just formula (have you ever tried looking after a baby and toddler on your own while expressing?!) but I don’t want to do that just yet.

I’ve only had one bit of outright negativity (I may talk about that separately) and the advantage is that other people are able to feed. So for example sometimes Dylan will be feeding Max overnight and I can go off and express – or even try and get some sleep.

Downsides are I do feel incredibly like a cow ‘milking’ myself all day and night!

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x