Before having a child of my own, I always loved the idea of donating and sharing breast milk. It always amazed me, and even more now that there are so many people out there who are either weirded out by breast milk donation or don’t know that it is an option. The fact we drink cows and goats’ milk without question, but the idea of sharing breast milk from humans to other human babies is taboo blows my mind.
I started to do a bit of research into breast milk sharing and donating while I was pregnant. I had every intention of breastfeeding once my son was born, however I was also very aware that I may not be able to (for whatever reason) and wanted to research all my options available. Interestingly enough I discovered breast milk sharing isn’t something new. The world’s first human milk bank opened in Vienna in 1909, wet nurses expressed breast milk, and this was given to sick babies. Over the next several decades many other countries, including New Zealand followed suit with now more than 500 milk banks worldwide in 44 countries. Of course, like anything this has evolved over the years and there are strict guidelines and protocols around this. But I am still quite surprised there are not more facilities to offer breast milk donating and sharing in New Zealand. Like women’s post-natal care, this is something I hope we can develop and grow as a country. I genuinely believe there are so many mothers and parents out there who do not know this is even an option.
I came across a few different agencies in New Zealand which offer safe and responsible sharing/donating and I was also very pleased to see none of these agencies offer any breastmilk for ‘sale’ as such. No money is to be exchanged. It also is done mostly through the power of social media and word of mouth. Christchurch Women’s Hospital NICU also has a Milk Bank with its own storage freezers and staff who undertake the pasteurising of milk.
Once my son was born and our breastfeeding journey was in full swing, it became very clear I had an oversupply. I was pumping up to 500ml in one pumping session. Because my son wasn’t taking a bottle at this stage, I simply started storing and freezing breast milk in my freezer and soon I had literally litres. From about 4 months old I was feeding my son a bottle of expressed milk at night so I could rotate all the milk in my freezer and ensure none was going to waste, it then dawned on me (new born brain fade had wiped my mind of all my intentions) that I could be sharing and donating my freezer stash.
I have had a number of girlfriends who have had supply issues (as this is so common and also needs to be discussed more, this shit isn’t easy) and Henry and I have been donating to them so they can top up with breastmilk, while still feeding. Becoming a mum really opens up a new world to you and you see a new side to not only your girlfriends but yourself. I am very lucky to have a close group of friends and a lot of us are either having our first child or some onto our second, third or more. We have all jumped in to help whoever is needing it, sharing where we can and all chipping in to keep a couple of babies in our group feed on breastmilk as long as we can. It’s actually quite amazing when you think about it and I am so blessed to have a group of such strong, open minded and sharing women around me.
Funnily enough (universe) when my son was 3 weeks old, my sister also found out she was pregnant. After struggling with breastfeeding with her first we had already agreed if that happened again, I would milk share with her until her supply caught up, or for as long as needed. My new little nephew was born 2 weeks ago, in level 2.5 lockdown in Auckland. There were no visitors allowed into hospital or birth care but again, thankful for the open minded and kind midwives at Birthcare who snuck me in so I could bring milk to my nephew and sister who was struggling with her supply. For a service which is still struggling in New Zealand to get the funding, support and the attention it needs, I got to see a glimpse of the amazing teamwork midwives, mothers and friends/family are doing with what we have.
My son is now 9 months old and is still breastfeeding (along with eating most of my food as well as his three meals a day), my supply has definitely settled, and we have stopped pumping unless he is away from me and needs a bottle. We will keep feeding till he is ready to wean, and now my nephew is no longer needing my top ups I think our donating journey has come to an end. I am so thankful to my body for producing enough for Henry and extra to help those who have needed it.
It’s funny the things motherhood shows you and the experiences you have along the way. The way it changes you and even though at times you are like “WTF is going on, send help” there are so many amazing things you never saw coming.
How some days you can get down on the fact you don’t fit your pre baby jeans and sleep-ins have evaporated into thin air. How your body just never feels quite the same after birth, c section or naturally and there is no such thing as personal space anymore. But how incredible my body is for producing what it has, how my connections with my girl friends have changed and the support we have for one another and I am so proud of myself for getting this far.
If you are interested in breast milk donating, or need donated milk see some links to agencies/facilities below (these are not endorsed or sponsored by us, just sharing the love)
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