In the UK, milk banks used to exist in every hospital that delivered babies. After the 1980s, a combination of funding constraints and the discovery of HIV meant that only six milk banks that had equipment to heat-treat the milk remained. Even now, only a handful of NHS milk banks exist in England and Wales, meaning donor milk has been a precious resource rationed to the most sick, premature babies.
We believe a new approach is possible. One of the primary objectives of the Human Milk Foundation is to enable infants to receive human milk when breastfeeding is impossible for medical or practical reasons. We also aim to support exclusive breastfeeding and breastmilk feeding for parents who have not yet fully established their breastmilk supply and for whom supplemental feeding of their baby has been recommended by a healthcare professional.
With the support of our Prioritisation Panel, we have developed guidelines for the provision of donor milk for non-hospitalized infants. This support is funded by generous donations to our charity. Initial requests for donor milk and associated funding should be from the baby’s healthcare provider, including the family’s GP, hospital consultant, community dietician or IBCLC. The duration of donor milk will vary according to supplies of milk available and the individual context of each family.See the work of the Hearts Milk Bank
Being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33 whilst pregnant with our second child and waiting for our baby to arrive, has been the biggest challenge we’ve ever had to deal with. Nothing could have prepared us for the emotional journey that lay ahead. Keeping it all together and getting on with life whilst putting on a brave face to everyone around us has taken every ounce of strength. I was induced at 35 weeks of pregnancy and we welcomed our daughter, Clara, into the world in May 2018. Much to our dismay, Clara didn’t take to formula as her premature digestive system wasn’t able to digest the milk easily. I decided to text the out of hours Hearts Milk Bank phone number asking for a call back. We were reassured that the donor milk provided is safe, screened, pasteurised, contains antibodies that are not found in formula and adhere to NHS NICE guidelines. Amazingly, they arranged for us to receive 7 litres of donor milk that very evening! She even personally drove the 3 hour round trip to deliver it to us. This was a huge boost and relief to us as we were able to defrost a bottle immediately. A second batch of donor milk was delivered a fortnight later by Bruce, a volunteer SERV motorcyclist. He told me that he couriers milk around the country because he enjoys riding his bike and “If it helps people, then it’s worth it”. Although for me, nothing could have replaced the joy of breastfeeding my baby; The Hearts Milk Bank enabled us to do the next best thing – to feed precious donor breastmilk to our daughter. The difference the donor milk has made to Clara is nothing short of miraculous. She is able to easily digest the milk without the constant struggle we saw her have when feeding her formula milk. As I wait to have mastectomy surgery, the pleasure of being able to feed Clara donor milk and seeing her put on weight has been so positive. It has also helped me overcome the difficult emotions of being unable to breastfeed Clara myself.
One of the hardest things about my diagnosis of breast cancer while I was pregnant was being told that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed my son due to needing to continue with chemotherapy after the birth. I enjoyed breastfeeding my daughter for 18 months and had to stop feeding her to be able start chemotherapy. It was very upsetting that I wouldn't get to have that same breastfeeding relationship with my son. Part of me felt guilty that I wasn't able to give him my breast milk to provide the best start for him, especially after having undergone chemotherapy whilst pregnant with him. The donor milk I received help take that guilt away and was a blessing that has made my cancer diagnosis that much easier to cope with. He was able to obtain many of the important benefits of breast milk and I was able to feel like I was doing all I could to ensure he has had the best start in life. He has been jumping up the percentiles in his weight through being fed exclusively donor milk and is clearly thriving. The donor milk has not only helped my baby but also helped me emotionally deal with the circumstances. I can't thank all those lovely women out there enough for donating milk to the milk bank and am so grateful to them and all the team that work to ensure the milk is processed safely and delivered for my baby. It has been an absolute blessing at a very stressful time. We hope that following my recovery that we can fundraise for the Human Milk Foundation to raise awareness for this fantastic charity that has helped us so much as such a difficult time.
My son Koan is just a year old and has complex medical needs: He has a rare neurological condition called polymicrogyria. So far it's affected his swallow (he has a feeding tube), his eyes, and he has epilepsy. Beyond this, we have to wait and see how he develops. After his hospitalization at three months old, Koan was feeding only through his tube. He was getting the little milk I could express and formula. My milk production was greatly affected by Koan's hospitalisation and our separation. The donor milk from the Hearts Milk Bank, funded by the Human Milk Foundation, allowed me to step away from the pump and a) spend more time and bond with Koan, and b) breastfeed more. Slowly we reduced the tube feeding and increased the breastfeeding. Koan's feeding improved and his weight was good - he's on the 25th percentile currently after weighing below the 0.4 centile. I am thrilled to say that we are still breastfeeding at 1 year. We have hope for the future, and one of those hopes is that I might become a milk donor in the future.