Daisy's Secret Twin
From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 2, 2009, p. 21
These days seven-month-old Daisy is a bit distracted during some of her feedings. She keeps breaking off her contented slurping in order to make another attempt to grab the hand pump that I am using on the other breast. She also likes kicking it and is trying to figure out how to work the handle. Her big sisters call it "the milk stealer" and tease her that she is trying to sabotage it before it can take away any more. But Daisy is so plump and cheerful that we know she has no problem getting enough. Her weight shot off the top of her growth chart a few months ago and has continued to describe a beautiful arc above it. She isn't too interested in solids yet, though does enjoy wearing banana in her hair. There is plenty of milk for Daisy and enough spare for her "secret twin."
I have three beautiful daughters but I only have one baby at the moment. So who is this other baby I am pumping for? Daisy's "twin" is not just one baby but some of the many premature and sick babies who receive milk from the Oxford Human Milk Bank in Great Britain. Some of these babies are born so early that their mothers take a while to get their own milk supply going. In the meantime, donated breastmilk gives these tiny babies the best possible chance to grow and thrive. Sometimes, when there is plenty of milk in the bank, it is also used for healthy, full-term babies, whose mothers, for some reason, are struggling to establish breastfeeding but really want to avoid using artificial milks, perhaps because of a family history of allergy.
I have only recently started donating milk and am doing it on a very small scale. Some amazing women donate 100 liters or more per year! I try to pump twice a day and, at the moment, am managing to collect one to one and a half small bottles (100-150 ml, approximately 3-5 oz). What works for me is to pump on one side while I feed my baby on the other, as this takes advantage of the let-down produced by her sucking. It doesn't look like much when it goes into the freezer, but I know that it is like liquid gold and goes a long way. "One ounce of milk will feed a tiny premature baby for one-and-a-half days" (http://www.ukamb.org/donor.htm) As the UK Association for Milk Banking motto says: "Every Drop Counts."
You have to be quite careful with hygiene when collecting milk for the milk bank, more careful than you would have to be when expressing for your own baby. You need to clean your hands and the pump each time, put the milk straight in the fridge, and freeze it within 24 hours. But it's really not that complicated. I have a special little basket, which means that I can put all the pump parts through the dishwasher before I sterilize them. You don't even have to express: if you leak a lot you can collect dripped milk in a sterile breast shell. Our milk bank arranges supplies of sterile bottles and regular collection of donated milk from the donors' homes. In the hospital each donor's milk is pasteurized (heat treated) to kill any bacteria or viruses and carefully stored ready to feed the neediest babies.
The majority of the babies who receive my donated milk will be from my area, but sometimes milk is sent to other hospitals when there is a particular need elsewhere and enough milk to spare. Milk banks may make a charge for supplying milk to other hospitals, but the babies' families never have to pay, and the donors give their milk for free. There are just 17 milk banks covering the whole of the UK, so most babies never get the chance to have donated milk http://www.ukamb.org/milkbanks.htm
If you are passionate about the importance of human milk for human babies, and have a milk bank anywhere near you, you might like to find out about becoming a donor.* You need to be healthy, a non-smoker, not taking any medications (apart from the contraceptive pill and asthma inhalers), and not to have had a blood transfusion since 1980. Most milk banks ask that your own baby be less than six months old when you start donating. You can read the full guidelines here: http://www.ukamb.org/donor.htm and for North America here: http://www.hmbana.org/index/donatemilk
I hope that when she gets bigger, Daisy will feel proud that she was able to share her milk. In the meantime, I had better just go and pop pump parts in the dishwasher.
* La Leche League International's policy is to support the use of human milk for babies. Mothers breastfeeding babies under six months should be cautious of the priority of their own baby's needs if they intend to donate milk and may want to speak to an LLL Leader about managing these needs.
Adapted from a story in LLLGB's Breastfeeding Matters