Mums asked to donate excess breast milk in new campaign
Breastfeeding mums are being urged to donate milk to help sick or premature babies. Catherine Ball reports
YEARS ago donating breast milk to help another woman's baby was fairly commonplace. But today there are just 12 milk banks left in the UK and many people don't even realise they exist.
This week, during National Breastfeeding Week, Lynda Coulter, who runs Chester Milk Bank, appealed for women in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire to donate their excess breast milk to help give early or unwell newborns the best start in life.
Although the milk bank is based at the Countess of Chester Hospital, donated milk is given to babies who need it at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire and throughout the region.
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Lynda said there were currently five women in the North Staffordshire area donating to the bank.
But she said she was keen to recruit more mums to help keep the stock levels up.
Michelle Green, aged 24, from Fenton, contacted the milk bank to become a donor when her second child Luca was just five-days-old.
She had never heard of the milk bank when her first child Cayden, now aged two-and-a-half, was born. But when she found out about the work it was doing, she didn't hesitate to sign up as a donor.
Luca is now 12-weeks-old and Michelle was today making her second donation to the bank of around 30 bottles of breast milk.
She said: "I have quite an over-production of milk myself so I was already expressing and storing it. It is like giving blood – you are doing it to help someone else. It is nice to know there is a baby out there getting my extra milk.
"If it had been the other way round and my baby had been in need of milk and I couldn't produce it myself, I would have liked to know that I could turn to the milk bank."
Michelle, who is currently on maternity leave from her job as a breastfeeding facilitator with Mum2Mum, is sent a box of bottles by the milk bank, which she expresses her milk into and stores in her freezer.
She said: "I express as and when I feel like it and when I have finished the bottles or my freezer is getting full, someone from the milk bank comes and collects them.
"When I get up in the morning I am normally quite full of milk so I express first thing in the morning or last thing at night and I do one or two bottles a day."
Her role at Mum2Mum, a Stoke-on-Trent-based network, which helps new mothers overcome any breastfeeding problems, meant she already knew all about the health benefits of breast milk for sick and pre-term babies.
She said: "I know through my job that a lot of mums who have babies on the neonatal ward often don't start producing milk for a few days. They are also under a lot of stress so it can be difficult for them to start expressing all this milk."
Lynda was working as a senior neonatal nurse practitioner at the Countess of Chester Hospital when she suggested the hospital needed a milk bank in 2000. It opened three years later and is run as a charity, reliant on volunteers.
She said: "Life as a donor mum is quite short so we are always looking to recruit new mums and get the message out there.
"There is evidence that small premature babies have a much better tolerance of human milk and it gives them a reduced risk of getting some quite dramatic intestinal infections.
"In the absence of mum being able to produce any milk of her own, donated milk is the best alternative and the earlier you can feed the babies the better."
Annually milk is given to about 200 babies in the Chester area and more is sent as and when it is needed to other parts of the country, including North Staffordshire.
Lynda said: "We have sent milk as far away as Barrow-in-Furness, Grimsby and Anglesey. We do on occasion also give it to term babies whose mothers are struggling to establish breastfeeding.
"They can use donor breastmilk instead of turning to formula until they manage to establish feeding themselves."
The milk bank is looking for breastfeeding mothers whose babies are under six months, although they can continue donating milk until their child's first birthday.
People looking to become donors must fill out a lifestyle questionnaire and their blood is tested for any diseases.
Expressing equipment can be provided and milk is collected about once every month. The milk is then pasteurised so it is safe to use.
Last year 1,000 litres of milk were donated to the bank by 170 women and in 2008 140 mothers gave 800 litres.
Lynda urged people not to be squeamish about the idea of donor breast milk.
She said: "I find it strange that people prefer the idea of babies having milk from another species - a cow - than from another human. The immunoglobulins in breast milk are vital for premature babies because they're like an immunisation jab all in one.
"And they stop one of the main causes of death in premature babies – necrotising enterocolitis. This disease will often kill the bowel in pre-term infants."
She added: "Milk banking has been going on for 100 years now so it is nothing new. But because in our culture breasts are now associated with sexuality rather than feeding, some people seem to have a problem with it."
Anyone interested in becoming a donor can call the milk bank on 01244 366416.