Sunday, 16 February 2014

Put on your breast expression

On a day where UKAMB (UK Association for Milk Banking) are inviting people to take part in a a survey about Milk Banking (storage and re-distribution of donated breast milk to neonatal units around the country) I thought I would share an article I wrote last year, in conjunction with the London Milk Bank at Queen Charlotte's & Chelsea hospital, for my local NCT newsletter. 

‘You did what?’ I stare in disbelief as our dinner guests file back into the sitting room. ‘I didn’t think you’d mind’ says my grinning partner who has just revealed to me that, while I was upstairs settling our youngest son, he had shown our friends the contents of the freezer. ‘Someone’s been busy, what you going to do with it all?’ my friend asks ‘because if you carry on at this rate you've got enough to last you a year’

The fact was that, having given birth to my second son, I had decided that having struggled to maintain any kind of store of breastmilk first time round, this time I would get myself into good routine of expressing and freezing milk on a daily basis.  Now that my son was 3 months old I was barely able to shut the freezer door.

It was at this point, when my partner started giving guests guided tours of the milk factory, that I realized that if I was going to ever store food in my freezer again I would have do something. I had heard rumours from friends about the possibility of donating breast milk to premature baby units in hospitals and so I consulted Google to see what information I could find.  I quickly came across details of the London Milk Bank, a division of the United Kingdom Association for Milk banking (UKAMB)

I clicked on ‘Becoming a donor’ and completed the application form. I was then posted out a blood test kit and a batch of sterile bottles so I could start expressing and freezing milk immediately. I took the kit along to my Doctors and within a couple of weeks received a letter stating that I was now an official Milk Donor and could arrange for the contents of my freezer to be collected. I was stunned at how easy it was and of course I couldn’t help but a feel a little chuffed when I was able to hand over 6 litres of breast milk to the Milk Bank courier. 

Finding out about UKAMB I felt appalled that my only initial motivation for doing this had just been to make room in my freezer. Due to the advances of modern medicine thankfully more and more premature infants are surviving which in turn creates a greater need for donor milk and the process required to become a donor is brilliantly simple.

The storing and distributing of breast milk, known as milk banking, is a practice that is now over a 100 years old. Gillian Weaver, Manager of the Queen Charlotte & Chelsea Hospital Milk Bank outlines why there has never been a greater need for women to donate their breast milk: ‘Of course donor breast milk is only ever second best to the infant’s own mother’s milk and shouldn’t be a substitute for every effort to help and support a new mother to establish lactation and provide her baby with her own milk. However, the realities of having a tiny and possibly very sick baby can impact on a mother’s ability to express enough milk, particularly in the vitally important early days.  When babies are born at less than 26 weeks gestation, the mother may not yet be ready to lactate fully as a result of incomplete developmental changes within her breast tissue which in turn enable breast milk production.  All mothers of sick and premature infants experience the stress, tiredness and anxiety that can also interfere with lactation.  Additionally, there are the mothers whose babies are born early because of their own ill health and who need life saving cancer treatments, or those who spend time in intensive care because of problems that arise during childbirth or as a result of pre existing health problems.  These are the times when donor milk is on hand in some neonatal units to ensure infants can still be fed with breast milk and when the availability of donor milk can be so very supportive for the mother. 
Given the fact that breast milk is now unequivocally the preferred means of feeding premature infants and the research evidence shows they are less likely to develop life threatening gut infections, the increasing interest in human milk banking is understandable’

There are some requirements to becoming a donor: you can’t smoke or consume more than 4 units of alcohol a week and you must start donating before your baby is 6 months old. You can donate as little or as much as you like although most milk banks ask donors to express each day for at least a month to justify the cost of all the screening and the blood tests. A premature baby may drink less than 20 ml a day so whatever you can give is very highly valued, this is beautifully summed up by UKAMB’s mantra : ‘Every drop counts’ 

Want to find out more about milk banking?
 Visit the United Kingdom Association for Milk Banking (UKAMB) website: If you are interested in becoming a donor go to the ‘Your Milk Bank’ section and find your closest milk bank. 

Of course you don’t just have be lactating to help, UKAMB is an organization that is desperately short of badly needed funds, you can donate immediately by clicking ‘Donate to UKAMB’ on the front page of their website.

Or contact Gillian Weaver, Manager of the London Milk Bank at Queen Charlotte's & Chelsea hospital, on for more information about becoming a donor or supporting the milk bank. 

Complete UKAMB's survey about Milk Banking HERE

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