The Gift of Liquid Gold
I will always remember a patient’s mother at work asking me if and how she could obtain donor breastmilk for her sick daughter. I knew there was a breastmilk bank at one of the maternity hospitals in Melbourne, but they only accepted milk from their current or previous patients and provided the donated breastmilk to the babies within the hospital. It was an exclusive breastmilk bank and we probably would not have had much luck in getting some for this mother’s baby. Not to mention all of the policies and procedures that you would have to navigate when it comes to utilising another mother’s breastmilk in the healthcare setting!
After my daughter was born and my milk had come in, I expressed a bottle every other day for the first 6 weeks to harvest the extra supply I had in the newborn period so that there was a stockpile in the freezer for if and when it was needed. I tried giving my daughter a bottle several times which she never took so I found myself with over 5 litres of breastmilk that was soon to expire. I hated pouring the breastmilk from my daughter’s rejected bottles down the sink so the thought of throwing away all this breastmilk that had taken time and effort to produce was a bit heartbreaking. I initially thought I could use it to fertilise the garden but then I stumbled upon a Facebook post about a breastmilk donor group Human Milk For Human Babies (HM4HB) that operates outside of the hospital system and relies on the transparency between mother’s when donating and accepting breastmilk for their babies.
On first thought most of us may find the idea of sharing one’s breastmilk a little taboo but consider what the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends regarding ideal infant feeding for the first 6 months of life:
- Being breastfed by the baby’s mother
- Receiving the mother’s expressed breastmilk
- Receiving donor breastmilk (expressed or wet nurse)
- Suitable infant formula
So I guess this challenges the assumption that because a woman cannot or doesn’t want to breastfeed the next best thing is infant formula. I totally understand that it’s not going to be everyone’s choice and at the moment I don’t think there is enough donor breastmilk to go around to all of the infants that could benefit from it (would be wonderful to see this change as awareness of giving and receiving donor breastmilk increases). But hopefully as breastmilk banks and donor breastmilk communities become more widespread, using donor breastmilk in place of infant formula will become more common-place and socially acceptable.
I am so grateful that I have been able to help two mother’s feed their babies. Instead of discarding my liquid gold it has contributed to nourishing two little lives alongside of my daughter. We are often told that it is more blessed to give than to receive but the blessing here is reciprocal. There was a wonderful photo circulating social media recently of a mother and baby (who had been the recipient of donor breastmilk) with all the women with their babies who had been the breastmilk donors to her child. It was a truly beautiful representation of how a community of mothers create a support network to raise a child (or in this case nourish one), it brought tears to my eyes having witnessed how valuable the gift of breastmilk really is.
For more information on breastmilk sharing and to find your local Human Milk for Human Babies (HM4HB) community page visit: http://hm4hb.net/
I would love to have your feedback on the concept of donor breastmilk – would you donate or receive breastmilk or have you been a donor or recipient yourself? What are your thoughts/feelings on donor breastmilk?