The gift of human milk – A donor’s story
May 19, 2021
The 19th May marks World Day of Human Milk Donation, and to celebrate it I’m sharing with you a real mum’s own story and journey of becoming a breast milk donor. Lindsay shared her milk with other families through the NHS milk bank and, in doing so, she gave babies the gift of nourishment, and their parents the gift of comforted heart.
Breast milk donors and milk banks play a crucial role in providing human milk to babies who – for different reasons – aren’t able to have their mother’s or parent’s milk. Often, these babies are born prematurely and spend some time in a neonatal unit. Human milk will give them the best nourishment and nutrition, providing them with a better chance of fighting infection, and benefiting their short, medium and long term health.
Here in Scotland, our milk bank is based in Glasgow, and it serves the whole country. If you’d like to know more about becoming a donor, you can find more information here, and do read on to learn about Lindsay’s beautiful and empowering experience of donating her milk.
Lindsay’s Breast Milk Donation Story
‘First a little bit about myself, I guess; I’m Lindsay, I live in a wee village on the West coast of Scotland and am mother to two wild, funny, exhausting, kind and ultimately awesome little kids. I’ve been very fortunate that I have been able to breastfeed both of my children with relatively few problems, (the usual nerves, uncertainty and awkwardness of learning a new skill along with another very tiny person who has never done it before either in the early days; the odd blocked milk duct now and then; and treated with antibiotics for mastitis once have been my only real challenges). My eldest weaned at 18 months and my youngest now at almost 2 years old has been night weaned but still happily feeds on demand through the day.
Donating breast milk was something I heard about when I was still feeding my first child. I was amazed and thought it was such a brilliant gift to be able to give but I assumed that because I live in a rural part of the country (I had a 2-hour car journey both ways just to get my baby scans when I was pregnant) that I wouldn’t be able to donate my milk easily as I was so far from the hospital so never looked into it further.
Fast forward another 2 or 3 years to the 1st lockdown in 2020 and I remember despite doing our bit by following all the lockdown rules I felt kind of useless and like I really wanted to do something positive to help someone. That was when I saw a post on Facebook asking for more milk donors as the milk banks were running low and I knew that was it! The thought of little babies fighting for their lives and what the parents must be going through every day was too much, and so I thought if I can do something as simple as provide a meal for the babies and so give the parents one less thing to worry about then that must be something good. I had a hand breast-pump already and was still feeding my youngest (then 9 months) on demand, so emailed the contact details to find out more.
It turned out to be very easy to donate my milk and I wish I had looked into it before with my first! They sent me a kit with bottles, labels, a thermometer for my freezer and few other bits. I would try to express once every day and would freeze my milk on that same day in the bottles provided, which I would label with the date. Once I had a good number of bottles filled, I would complete a form online asking for my milk to be collected (roughly once every 3 to 4 weeks). A volunteer would come at a pre-arranged time to my house to collect the bottles of frozen milk along with a form I completed of my daily freezer temperature, and take it away to Glasgow. Easy as that!
I found when I was expressing some days it would be easy, others less so. Most days I found I would be able to express around half a bottle, occasionally almost a full bottle. Others I would be lucky to get just 10ml. On the days where I struggled to express much, I would remind myself how tiny newborn babies’ tummies are and that actually that small amount could still be enough for at least one meal. Over a period of about 3 months I was able to donate a total of 8 litres of my milk and it is something I am so very proud of. Our bodies are amazing, breast milk is amazing, and the knowledge that I’ve been able to provide it not only for my own children but also shared it with other young infants who for a multitude of reasons need some extra help is something I feel incredibly glad to be able to of done.
If you are able to do it, and it is something you have considered, I can absolutely recommend it. The time and effort it took me feels like a very small sacrifice compared to the stress and worry that some families must be going through, and the feeling of reward and pride at doing something to make a direct difference to someone in need is something I will always cherish.’