I was waddling up Earlsfort Terrace at 8 months pregnant, listening to the radio, when they started talking about the human milk bank. My first reaction was the same as many others – HUMAN milk bank? Eeeeeew! But the more they spoke more about it, the more interested I became. Based in Fermanagh, it is the only human milk bank in Ireland. They arrange for donated breastmilk to be transported wherever it’s needed. There is a massive shortage of donations, probably due to the limited number of potential donors and the fact that not many people know about it.
Primarily, the donations go to premature babies who can benefit hugely from breastmilk. However, there are more unusual circumstances where donations are needed, like a woman who had undergone a double mastectomy and couldn’t breastfeed her baby. Donors are usually mothers with a surplus of milk. However, there have been a number of very brave and generous women who donated in honour of their babies who died shortly after birth.
I put it to the back of my mind while basking in the joys of late pregnancy (sausage feet, hot flushes, the hips and pelvis of a 90 year old), followed by the joys of early motherhood (endless nappies, marathon breastfeeding sessions, the heady mix of sleep deprivation and overwhelming love). By the time my little man was about 4 months old, I’d started giving him a bottle in the evenings and figured I could replace the evening feed with a donating session. I called the milk bank, spoke to a lovely lady who went through some standard vetting questions with me (quite similar to those you’d have to answer before donating blood), and she sent me out a starter pack of pre-sterilised bottles. After that, it was all about the pumping!
As milk can only be kept frozen for three months, that’s as long as I had to collect the minimum donation amount of 3 litres. I was only expressing once a day – with the odd evening off for a well deserved and needed glass of wine – so it took me three months to collect the required minimum. It may seem like a long time but I took it one evening at a time, sometimes collecting a whopping 100mls, sometimes only 20mls. (There was also that bottle I dropped on the floor – yes, I did actually cry over spilt milk).
But what a sense of achievement when I was done! After that it was a trip to my GP so he could take a blood sample for me to send off with the donation, then straight to the post office with the precious product of my poor overworked boobs – and off it went to the milk bank. Fittingly, by express post!
Shortly afterwards, I received a letter from the milk bank letting me know that my donation went to four babies. Cue one chuffed head on me – job done!
**If you are interested in donating breast milk or would like more information, call the milk bank on 048 686 28333 (from Northern Ireland, call 028 686 28333) or email firstname.lastname@example.org