It takes a village - my journey to using donor breast milk
Struggling with Breastfeeding
I shared about how for me, breastfeeding never came naturally and the various different methods I tried to increase my supply - view post here. I was 1000% committed to doing it, but I had to admit in the end, it just wasn’t working for me.
Starting to investigate options
Whilst still healing from a traumatic birth, and in a lot of pain, I tried for about 4 weeks relentlessly every single remedy out there to boost milk supply. I was sticking to a crazy pumping schedule but getting only drips when pumping. I felt very strained and like I was letting my son down. I confided in a friend and she told me that there was another option- donor milk. That way Leo could still get breast milk - obviously it wasn’t as good as my own milk which was designed for him, but I felt it was a better option than relying on formula - milk from another species. To me, it was just logical and it’s funny that people are more weirded out by that than drinking cows milk- go and place a baby by a cows udder and tell me that is not weirder! A year before I got pregnant, I had also reduced my own dairy intake and clearly felt the benefits- my skin was better, I had more energy and felt better overall.
Anyway, I decided to investigate it further. I found a Facebook group called ‘Human Milk for Human Babies.’ I read the FAQs thoroughly to understand the process. I thought I’d post to request donor milk never expecting to actually find someone local enough for it to work for regular milk collections. At this point I was still keen to continue increasing my own supply and the goal was to reduce formula and donor milk top ups.
The Generosity of other mothers
I was surprised to receive an offer from another mum who lived in the same area as me- a mere 10 minute bus ride away. I messaged her and we agreed to meet in the local Starbucks. I felt strange about the whole thing, but was determined to find the best solution after much research and also my gut feelings.
It was the first time I’d got the bus since becoming a mum which was a huge deal for me- looking back now it’s funny as I’m on and off the bus all the time, but I remember feeling so nervous about taking the pram on- it didn’t seem safe enough- would it even fit through the bus doors? My hormones were all over the place- my hair was a massive bouffant and I was sweating badly- so attractive! Obviously still wearing baggy maternity clothes. However when i arrived I felt a huge sense of achievement.
Considering the risks
Having done my research, I was aware there was a very tiny chance that a disease could be passed on via the donor milk. However having met my donor, I was happy to accept her milk- we all have blood tests done during pregnancy and would know if anything had been detected. I would have liked it to be more regulated, but in the end it was my gut feeling that this was what was best for my son. Like any decision we make as parents. Of course I spoke with my husband about the decision as well and he was guided by my research and strong feelings of wanting to pursue this.
Chatting for hours
I was relieved to find the other mum was lovely- we chatted for a good couple of hours and I told her what I was going through. She was caring and understanding and totally non-judgemental.
Her son was a few weeks older, ideally with donor milk, the other baby should be as similar age as possible. I knew from research that breast milk is better than formula nutritionally no matter the age of the donor’s child- as stated by the WHO. We arranged to meet again for me to collect milk which she had frozen.
Regular milk collections
I continued all the methods I was trying to increase my own supply whilst topping up Leo’s feeds with donor milk and a bit of formula since I didn’t have enough donor milk to cover Leo’s needs completely. It worked really well- we’d meet up at baby groups or I’d pop over for a chat and collect some more milk as well. She was able to collect spare milk using a silicone suction pump on the opposite side she was feeding from and collect a couple of feeds per day this way. Otherwise this milk would have just gone to waste into a breast pad. I really enjoyed getting to know her better and meeting up- it certainly wasn’t a chore. Her son who was a few weeks older than mine was her third child so she also had some good words of advice!
When I chose to stop breastfeeding
My son was just over 3 months old and suddenly he refused to be breastfed at all- crying until he was offered a bottle. He would scream and arch his back every time I tried. It was the final straw- I know we might have been able to persist through this, but mental health has to be considered as well, and I was just finding the constant strain of it too much. I continued to pump for a couple of weeks afterwards, but gradually my supply just finished up completely.
Finding other donors
I was able to find other donors to help as well when my original donor finished breastfeeding- these mums were all incredible people - giving very generously. I travelled across London to meet one donor and outside of London down to Surrey to meet another. It certainly wasn’t the easy option, but I was determined to make it work. I kept track using a feeding app and when Leo was around 5 months, was averaging around 40% breast milk and 60% formula. So I’m certainly not anti-formula as it also really helped. Once Leo started having more, the quantities he needed simply wasn’t feasible to be 100% breast milk. Plus I felt that having a combination seemed to work well for him.
We even went to Australia when Leo was 6 months old and I managed to find two donors there. After seeing their blood test results and meeting them, I was happy to be able to continue giving breastmilk while we travelled. I think it helped Leo when dealing with jetlag and exposure to new germs the other side of the world!
Invited to be on TV and share my story!
A journalist got in touch with me late March 2018 asking if I wanted to share my story on This Morning. My immediate thought was ‘no way!’ but then the more I thought about it, the more it felt like the right thing to do - I wanted other new mums to know about donor milk as an option. I didn’t find out until Leo was around 3 weeks old - had I known earlier I could have started looking into it sooner and not gone through as much stress with trying to breastfeed and cup feed in those first couple of weeks. So I said I’d do it (and negotiated a fee!)
The TV Experience
I appeared on a Tuesday morning just after 11am when Eamon and Ruth were covering for Phil and Holly. I went up to their Southbank studio with my mum and we sat in the Green room for a couple of hours before the runner came in and announced we were next- we dashed through to sit on the sofa just before the ad break finished.
It was funny but we didn’t really notice the cameras whilst we spoke with Ruth and Eamon on the sofa. We found out they were linking up with a Doctor as well who was giving the ‘against’ side to using donor milk. She presented some vague information about studies done in the US where people had paid online for breast milk and never met the donor- obviously this was totally different to what we were doing so it was a shame that the story was presented with such a focus on the down side using a study done in another country with a totally different set up.
Want to find out more?
Visit the Human Milk for Human Babies Facebook group where they have a good list of FAQs as a starting point. Also feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more about it. I am collating together some research which supports using donor milk.