From IGT to solidarity: how donor breastmilk changed my life

Label your breastmilk storage bags ahead of time to make breast pumping at night easier.

Last week Spectra asked mums around the world if they had ever donated breastmilk, or had been the recipients of donated milk. We got an enormous amount of responses and are so thrilled to hear how many mamas are helping each other feed and nourish their babies. Here are some of their stories:

When I found out I couldn’t breastfeed, I was absolutely devastated

When Mish gave birth to her baby girl, Ainslie, in 2014 she had set a goal to exclusively breastfeed for one year. Her daughter had a perfect latch and she breastfed every 2-3 hours. She purchased a Spectra S2 pump to use in the future. However, by day 12, Ainslie still hadn’t gained any weight. How could she have not gained any weight if she was eating every 2-3 hours? Mish realized something wasn’t right. She tried manually expressing with her midwife and wasn’t able to get much. Ainslie badly needed more to eat.

ainslie
Ainslie

“I got some expressed milk from a friend to get us through the night. Ainslie gulped down 85mls the first feed. All of the wind/colic pain I thought that she had, was really due to the fact that she was hungry.”

Mish made an appointment with a lactation consultant that weekend.

“She listened. Weighed her before and after feeding (no gain), watched her feed. Then took one look at my boobs.”

As it turned out, Mish had Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT) and would be unable to breastfeed her baby without supplementing. “When I found out I couldn’t breastfeed, I was absolutely devastated.” IGT, also known as Mammary Hypoplasia, means that the amount of mammary glands in the breast(s) are insufficient to produce enough milk to sustain an infant. This can look different for every woman.

I was blown away by the amount of support I received from breastmilk donors

Mish turned to donor milk. She joined Facebook groups and met other mums online. She found Human Milk 4 Human Babies. She was blown away by the amount of support she received. “I’ve got milk. I have more milk. I can give you milk. I’ll express for you. I have a sister who has milk, I’ll bring it over. Oh, and I’ll make you lactation cookies.” She found 15 donors right away, and traveled all over to get breastmilk for Ainslie. She traveled to South Australia. She traveled to America, and even received so many offers there that she had to turn down donors!

A photo of 2 week old Ainslie “milk drunk” for the first time.
A photo of 2 week old Ainslie “milk drunk” for the first time.

Thanks to the generosity of breastmilk donors, Ainslie was able to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months, and have breastmilk in addition to solid foods for 9 months. “Watching her feed and finally be full was heartbreaking but also so beautiful.”

But that’s not the only benefit. According to Mish, she found her community and built lasting relationships. “It was one of the most healing things as a mother because I didn’t feel like I was alone, and I felt like I was a part of a community.”

I donated my pump to help other mums

Remember the Spectra S2 Mish purchased? We asked about it, and it turns out that although she never had a chance to use her Spectra S2, instead of returning it or selling it, she chose to donate it to her community of donor mums. According to Mish, her S2 has so far been used by 10 other donor mums to help provide breastmilk for countless babies in need!

“Then you step back. You step way back and soak it all in. The immense community of women who are answering a call from a mama who needs support. From a mama who needs to do the best for her child..and you’re humbled to the core.” Read Mish’s complete story here.

Quote: Watching her feed and finally be full was heartbreaking but also so beautiful.

Why donor mums are so important

Thousands of mums like Mish rely on the generosity of breastmilk donors to feed their babies each year. When Dana was facing underproduction in milk supply, she turned to donor milk. According to Dana, “my third baby was exclusively breastmilk fed for 12 months and mostly until 16 months despite me only producing around 200ml a day. We had over 40 donors who I’m so so grateful for.” Dana was able to provide nourishment for her baby thanks to the generosity of other mums.

Why we love donor mums

Breastmilk donors come from all over the world, but have one thing in common: a heart of gold. When Spectra asked about donor milk, here’s some of the responses we received:

“ I donated over 30 litres while exclusively breastfeeding my son and wet nursing another multiple times a day at one point.” – Stephanie

Stephanie (left) and her friend (right) pumping milk to donate to another friend and her baby (center). Stephanie has since donated her Spectra pump to her sister who has just welcomed a new baby.
Stephanie (left) and her friend (right) pumping milk to donate to another friend and her baby (center). Stephanie has since donated her Spectra pump to her sister who has just welcomed a new baby.

“I have donated over 15L to other mums. I was pumping 4 times a day, between feeds and at night, and it really helped.” – Amelia

Photo of Amelia’s Spectra S1 and some of the milk she generously donated :)
Photo of Amelia’s Spectra S1 and some of the milk she generously donated.

Spectra’s own Georgie Elle from the customer service team has donated hundreds of litres of breastmilk. When her son couldn’t latch, she became committed to exclusively feeding him breastmilk . “As an exclusive expresser, especially for long term, supply is always a worrying thought. I knew that to protect my supply for long term to feed my baby, I needed to ensure I was pumping more than he needed.” Georgie had plenty of extra milk, so she decided to donate it. “I could not keep all that I pumped as I ran out of room in the deep freezer every few weeks. Donating to other babies not only helped another baby and family out doing something that was so important, but helped me protect my supply.” Pumping extra milk helped maintain her supply for her son and provided food for other babies for two years, including donating enough milk to one family to feed their baby nearly an entire year! Says Georgie, pumping extra milk “helped my health by avoiding blocks and mastitis, supported my supply over the long term, and made sure my son always had fresh milk as there was more than enough. The trust, responsibility and care that was shared with other parents for their baby’s well being was lovely to experience each day when I pumped for donor recipients.”

Georgie’s son was fed breastmilk for 2 years and had hundreds of litres to share with other babies.

Where can I find donor breastmilk?

You might be wondering where you can find donor milk. Like Mish discovered, Facebook and other social media outlets are fantastic resources to connect you with local donor mums. Human Milk 4 Human Babies has chapters all over the world and regionally within countries. Simply search for “HM4HB” and your city, state, or region to connect you with local donors. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t find anything specific – you might be surprised to learn how far donors are willing to travel to donate milk 🙂

How do I donate milk?

Just like seeking donor milk, finding recipients is as easy as posting in a local HM4HB chapter on Facebook. In fact, one of our employees posted milk up for donation and got half a dozen replies within an hour!

You can also make a phone call to your local hospital to find out about donating milk to the NICU unit.

Don’t worry about quantity; if you have any amount of milk in the back of the freezer, there is surely a baby out there who would benefit from it.

Have you ever donated milk? Have you ever been a recipient of donor milk? Tell us in the comments below!

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