In the run up to World Milk Donation Day today, local mum Madders blogged a few days in the life of a breast milk donor:
So here goes. Day 1. The milk bank are incredibly efficient. Even while my paperwork for becoming a donor is being cleared, and i am waiting for a blood test (to check i dont have any diseases which can be passed on through breastmilk) they have sent me 20 sterile bottles to express into, and 20 labels with my name and room for the date. I can start expressing and freeze the milk right away.
I look at the 20 bottles sent to me. They look back at me. There are a lot of them. A little at time, I think. My plan is to express 100ml a day, on as many days as I can. It can be kept in my freezer for up to 3 months. When I have 2 litres in the freezer, the milk bank will send a courier to collect it. Milk bank policy is that there is no minimum amount of milk which I have to donate, and I can stop when I like, which takes the pressure off.
Once the milk has been pasteurised (ha!) it can be used by hospitals to feed premature and sick newborn babies whose mothers can’t breastfeed them. The milk is not only food but also medicine. These babies are particularly vulnerable to infection, including a condition called necrotising enterocolitis (where tissue in the gut dies) which is very often life threatening for these little people. Breastmilk offers significant protection against this disease compared to formula. I’m currently on maternity leave, breastfeeding my third daughter. Donating some of the milk seems a pretty cool thing to do. It only takes 10 minutes at the end of the day. Why wouldn’t I do something so utterly worthwhile with such little effort?
So, to start. I wash my hands obsessively, thinking how fragile the consumers will be. Now time to, ahem, express myself.
Before the milk I am expressing and freezing can be used, I need the all-clear from various diseases which can be transmitted through breastmilk. I can either go to the hospital for a blood test, or take a kit to the GP. GP works for me. The milk bank send me out a box by post, including a special secure biohazard box provided by Royal Mail so I can send the blood back to the bank by post.
At the drop-in bloods clinic, the phlebotomist doesn’t bat an eyelid when I explain why I am there. She helpfully takes a few tubes of blood. She then seals them in the special Royal Mail “toxic things to send” box. Unfortunately she forgets to include the necessary paperwork. She is very apologetic, but we can’t reopen the secure box. I consider briefly the likelihood of an unnamed parcel of blood being reunited with papers, sent separately, in the 15 storey NHS hospital where the milk bank is based. Not a chance. Baby and I take blood/papers on the Underground and drop them in to the milk bank by hand.
Blood tests back all clear, forms filled in, and I am finally an approved donor. But I’m a bit under the weather, with a run of sleepless nights with the new babe. I am having some time out from expressing until I am back on form.
Back on it. I am now just over half way through expressing my 2 litre target. Without wishing to sound like too much of an old soak, one of the hardest things for me is giving up my evening glass of red. You can only drink 4 units a week max when donating. Caffeine and medication are also restricted for donors. And obviously donors can’t smoke or take drugs. I open up an alcohol free beer. Again. *Sigh*
Balls. My electric pump has broken. It is still making the usual mooing noise at me, but there is no suction. I have wasted 2 sterile bottles trying and failing to get my manual pump to work. And I have spilt milk on my jeans. Although I am not crying over it. Yet. This could scupper my chances of making my target. Or at least add a bit of drama to the blog as I (hopefully) triumph over adversity.
Electric pump restored, 100 mils collected. No idea why switching round the various tubes made the pump work, but it did. Rock and roll.
Nearly at the 2 litre mark, I contact the milk bank to arrange pick up. The medical courier calls me Â within a day or so, and we agree a time and date to pick up next week.
Disaster. I put the pump in the microwave to sterilise, but forgot to add water (sleepless nights anyone?) Part of my pump has melted. Expressing is on hold until I can get a replacement. Which means my bazookas are blooming enormous with unexpressed extra milk. I call the courier to rearrange pick up, and he suggests I speak to the Milk Bank in case it is still worth collecting.