Today i waved goodbye to my first batch of breastmilk for donation. One of the volunteer drivers for the milk bank came by around lunch time and collected my first litre. Actually, just over a litre, 1160mls, but hey, who's counting?...Oh right...that would be me! ;)
I'd like to say that tub of ice cream is my reward for the expressing but in reality it's just a random tub of ice cream that Chris picked up last time we went shopping, i may yet have to lay claim to it though for all my hard work. That's the thing though, it hasn't really been hard work at all. I am lucky that i've never had any issues with milk supply, i own an electric pump, and i just take 10-15 minutes out of every evening to sit down and express a couple of ounces, freeze it, repeat daily and watch the bottles multiply. I don't feel like it's been a massive hardship. Admittedly, there are the restrictions on coffee and alcohol, but with my stress levels at the minute, it's probably a good thing i have an outside force dictating my alcohol consumption to be honest!
It's great to know that i'm making a real difference, and because of what i do for a living i am fortunate enough to actually see donor milk being used and what benefits it brings.
When i was pregnant with Toby, and a fairly newly qualified staff nurse working in neonates, my stance on breastfeeding if questioned would probably have read something like "Give it a go, don't worry if it doesn't work out" That was a blanket policy- i applied it to others, and when pregnant with Toby i adopted it myself. I was very matter of fact about it- i would try breastfeeding and see how i got on with it, but i was fairly ambivalent about the whole thing and wouldn't be shedding any tears if i had to formula feed. It's not a bad stance to have really, although what i hadn't factored in was how different i would feel once that slippery, soft and warm baby with fuzzy shoulders and big dark blue eyes was handed up to me.
Suddenly it wasn't about "breast is best", it was just about me and my baby and my innate biological need to feed and nurture him. I was extremely fortunate that it all went rather smoothly from the outset. He latched on 20 minutes after being born and spent the majority of his first few months in exactly that position! Aside from some issues with reflux and over-supply, and of course the dreaded growth spurts and marathon feeding sessions and lack of sleep- the kinds of things all breastfeeding (and some bottle feeding!) Mamas must face, we never had any major bumps in the road on our breastfeeding journey, and it came to a fairly gentle end when he was 13 months of age. By which point i was no longer ambivalent, i was an altogether different adjective- passionate. Passionate about breastfeeding, about supporting women to make informed choices and supporting them after they have made their choices. Outwardly i don't think my behaviour changed much, at work i'm always professional, and i've always been able to reel off the reasons why breastmilk is brilliant and why it's good to give it a go, but inwardly, i was in a whole different place. I felt i understood now, what it was all about, and how amazing it was that something you thought of as minor, or even irrelevant ("It's only milk- what difference does it make which way i feed my baby?") could become so much more. When i became pregnant with Rudy, as far as i was concerned there wasn't even a question to be asked. Of course he'd be breastfed, just as his brother was. And again i was lucky. He was a bit slower to get the hang of it, i still think he has a "lazy" latch compared to his big brother. I could nurse Toby bent over, hands free and he was like a little dyson, feeding away oblivious to anything else, such as pesky gravity! Rudy has a much shallower latch and is also more easily distracted, but nonetheless, it's never posed any real problems for us. He's always fed, and there's always been milk. I had mastitis when he was a couple of months old and for a day or so thought i might die but i didn't, and in fact i didn't even need antibiotics!
I feel really fortunate that it's been so easy for us, and i have seen, and i know that it isn't always so easy for others. There are so many factors affecting breastfeeding, some of them in play before the mother has even fallen pregnant, like the views of friends and family, and society in general. The health of the mother (and baby) during pregnancy, and what happens during labour and birth and immediately after. And of course how well supported the mother is during the early hours, days, weeks and months afterwards. Sometimes at work we use donor milk for babies on the unit whose Mums don't want to express milk for their babies, but it's more often the case that we use it because they are unable (for a whole host of reasons) to express milk (or enough milk) for their babies at that time. Donating makes me feel like i am giving something back, in exchange for having had such a smooth and positive breastfeeding relationship with both my babies.
I really hope that i have struck the right balance with this entry because writing about infant feeding (whether breast or bottle) can be an emotional minefield and there are strong views at either end of the spectrum, it's hard to write openly and honestly about your own experiences, feelings and opinions without stirring up other people's but it's something i wanted to talk about. So now i have.
If anyone is interested in finding out more about donating breast milk, you can visit the UK Association for Milk Banking at www.ukamb.org