When we talk about breast milk donation it inevitably makes people feel a little uncomfortable, or at worst, someone says 'eeew'. However, the reality is that this practice is potentially lifesaving and fortunately becoming more and more common. So here are a few FAQ's for World Human Milk Donation Day…
WHAT IS DONOR BREAST MILK?
Donor breast milk is human milk that has been donated to specialised milk banks (usually based in hospitals around the country). It is then tested, treated and stored to make sure it is safe for use. This process does reduce some of the nutritional quality of the milk, but is essential to make sure it is totally safe. Also, the women that donate it are tested to make sure that they haven't got any infections that may be passed on via breast milk, before they are allowed to donate.
WHAT IS IT USED FOR?
We know that breast milk is the best milk for all babies, but there are certain groups for whom it is really important. This is because breast milk is 'naturally' designed for our bodies and therefore safer.
The main group is premature babies whose guts cannot tolerate formula in the early stages - formula can be very risky for these babies and they are at high risk of developing a serious condition called NEC. When a premature baby's mum is not able to produce any or enough milk, then they can be offered the option of donor milk as a start before changing to formula milk later on. Donor milk has been a massive advance in preventing serious gut problems for these babies.
Because donor milk is becoming more available, the rules for its use are being relaxed so it may be offered to more and more babies when their mothers are unable to produce enough themselves. At the moment, it is mainly used for babies in hospital, but this may change in future too.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
Breast milk that is donated via a proper, regulated milk bank is very safe because of the testing and storing procedures. However, some people have taken to donating breast milk 'unofficially' directly to each other - this is a RISKY process and NOT recommended. By using unofficial donation you are risking the health of your baby because the milk or donors may not have been tested or treated properly.
WHY DONATE MILK?
Donor milk can literally be lifesaving for vulnerable babies, so we need people who are willing and able to donate.
Lots of people donate milk - usually because they have recently had a baby and have extra milk (which they express and donate). Some women who have suffered the loss of a baby also donate because it not only offers them some physical comfort, but also some emotional comfort in helping others in need.
HOW DO I FIND OUT MORE?
If you want to find out more then either contact your local hospital's Neonatal/Special Care Baby Unit to see if they have a donor milk bank. Otherwise you can get more information from the UK Association of Milk Banking who provide advice and guidance for the public and professionals: www.ukamb.org.