7 August 2017

Breastfeeding Guest Post: My Story as a Breastmilk Donor

Today's breastfeeding guest post is from the lovely Arabella who writes at www.exeterbabyactivities.co.uk. Arabella is a 40 something mum of two strong girls aged 14 and 6, living a life of beaches, pets, cycling and green things in Exeter with Mr Husband. A lawyer by training, Arabella runs, Exeter Baby Activities, the ultimate guide for families in Exeter. She writes about life as a family, cooking, growing and eco-friendly things useful to families outside Exeter too - go check out her Mummy Musings. Arabella breastfed for a total of 5 ½ years. Here she talks about her personal struggle with oversupply issues and how this led her to become a breastmilk donor.

You can also find Arabella on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.


Mums who have struggled with breastfeeding due to worries about supply issues may not realise that the opposite, oversupply, can be just as difficult to deal with and can dramatically impact the nursing relationship.

My personal struggles with over supply included:

Painfully engorged breasts nearly all the time
  • Frequent bouts of mastitis and blocked ducts
  • Not being able to sleep on my front or even side for the first 2-3 months and having to sleep on a plastic sheet
  • Leaking through even doubled up washable and disposable breast pads in minutes
  • Feeling super nervous and anxious every time I left the house as I could soak through a tee shirt in 30 seconds flat
  • Having to wake up twice a night just to pump, even if baby had fed
  • Always washing and assembling the breastpump/bottles etc
  • Constantly having an internal dialogue around where the pump was; how long since I had used it; did I need to wash it; was there time to pump before baby woke; would she be able to latch if I didn’t pump, which was going to hurt more, pumping or trying to feed without pumping….
And then there was the frustration of knowing that I had literally gallons of pure, nutritious wonderful milk to give to my baby straight from the boob, but really really struggling to do so:
  • My super-fast and strong let down literally drowned baby every time she latched on
  • Rock hard and engorged boobs meant nipple feeding was a common occurrence which led to such painful and damaged nipples that it was 9 months before I stopped bleeding at every feed
  • Days and weeks of fighting at the breast - a baby that is desperate to feed but is scared of mum’s breast is a very distressing thing to witness
  • Having to adopt a very restricted range of positions - I could only really feed sitting bolt upright with several cushions under baby, making it difficult to leave the house
  • No laying down to feed, no biological nursing, no calm, gentle, bonding nurturing for us
  • Painful colic for my baby as she was gulping so much air in with each feed
  • Painful poos and horrid nappies plus the sick everywhere
To help cope with this forceful let down and oversupply, I began pumping off an ounce or two before every feed.  I know that pumping can actually make oversupply issues worse but without taking some of the pressure off, my baby physically wouldn’t be able to latch and the fussing at the breast was extremely painful for me.

The result was a freezer full of frozen breastmilk.  Dozens and dozens of packets of breastmilk, beautifully labelled and stored in date order in case it was ever needed.  Some days I’d open the freezer and just stare at the packets; at the pain and frustration and tears and sleepless nights they represented.

When the freezer drawer was full, I’d take the oldest packets, cut them open in the sink and watch them to drip down the plughole one painful drop at a time.

Becoming a Breastmilk Donor

With my second daughter, I was determined not to let this all go to waste. After we came out of hospital for the second time and it was clear I was going to face the same oversupply issues, I began to research human milk banks. Our Devon hospital didn’t run a breastmilk bank, despite having a very busy NICU, but they did have an arrangement with Southampton hospital to send collected milk to them for processing and storage before return as needed.

After making a few phone calls, I was directed to the clerk to the Neonatal Unit who thankfully knew EXACTLY what I needed to do. We had a chat on the phone to discuss my situation and I was able to explain that I had all the milk needed for my baby, with lots to spare and was generally fit and healthy. I had to visit the ward to pick up the relevant forms: a health/lifestyle questionnaire and blood work kit containing a letter to my GP and details of the tests needed. The health/lifestyle questionnaire wasn’t as invasive as I thought.  I can’t remember the exact questions, but they were all things I’d want to know if I was the parent of a premature baby receiving donated milk:
  • Was I generally fit and healthy
  • Any blood transfusions I’d had
  • Did I smoke/take drugs
  • How much coffee/alcohol did I drink
The blood work included tests for HIV, hepatitis, HTLV and syphilis so I made an appointment with my GP to have the screening bloods taken. I tried to do this via the surgery nurse but as she had never done a breastmilk donor screening before, she asked that I saw a GP.

Sadly, the GP was no more informed and tried to argue with me about
a.            the need for breastmilk donors when substitutes are so readily available and
b.            the blood tests requested, despite the letter and forms from the hospital.

After a slightly heated discussion (yes really) the GP was finally convinced by the letter from the hospital and the bloods were taken. When I got the blood results back, I posted them along with the completed questionnaire to the Neonatal ward clerk and a couple days later got the call to say I had been accepted as a breastmilk donor. I popped back up to the hospital to collect some breastmilk bottles (the bottles store the milk in a different way to bags, making it better for prem babies) and started pumping.

I was exceptionally careful to make sure I sterilized the pump correctly and labelled the bottles fully. I also checked the thermometer of my freezer daily to make sure it was keeping the milk at the correct temperature. After I had collected a freezer full, I packed it in a cool bag and my husband took it to the Neonatal Unit and dropped it off.  I’d have loved to have completed the cycle myself by dropping it off but as I don’t drive, I didn’t want the milk to be out of the freezer for the length of the bus journey.

My daughter and I continued to struggle with my oversupply for many months but this time round I was able to take comfort knowing that vulnerable babies would be benefitting.

Further information on breastmilk donation and oversupply issues

If you’d like to find out more about becoming a breastmilk donor or receiving donated milk if your baby needs it, the UKAMB website has lots of useful information.

If you don’t have a breastmilk bank near you, do still contact your local infant feeding coordinator, as they may have an arrangement with another hospital that you can benefit from.  Some milk banks also accept large donations from out of area donors and will arrange collection from you.

If you struggle with forceful let-down or oversupply issues, do seek help from a lactation consultant or infant feeding coordinator.  Online guidance can be found on LLLI, LLLGB and Kelly Mom.

4 comments on "Breastfeeding Guest Post: My Story as a Breastmilk Donor"

Laura Dove on 5 September 2017 at 10:32 said...

Wow well done you!! Donating breast milk is such a lovely, selfless thing to do and it will help so many babies! I didn't have a lot of milk when breast feeding and as a result we had to resort to formula, I wish I had the option of donor breastmilk.

Devon Mama on 5 September 2017 at 14:29 said...

I know someone else who's a breast milk donor and it's such an amazing gift to be able to give a family who is struggling. great to see problems with oversupply highlighted as well.

Tattooed Tealady on 6 September 2017 at 09:24 said...

Milk donors are like angels!xo

Jenni on 6 September 2017 at 23:26 said...

What an amazing thing to do, I love this. I remember initially starting breastfeeding and the panic that set in when it did not seem to be working. Luckily we both got the hang of it. This enables people who wish to breast feed but can't the chance of good old breast milk

Post a Comment


The Breastest News Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved Baby Blog Designed by Ipietoon | All Image Presented by Online Journal