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After the second operation we didn’t know if he would make it – The Netherlands

Sometimes, simply the availability of donor milk is enough to take the pressure off a mother who is struggling to express her milk. Knowing you need to produce a set volume of milk in time for your baby’s next feed adds to the pressure and stress that is felt which in turn can make it even more difficult to collect enough milk. It is the reason why mothers are told ‘Every drop counts’ and that their milk is ‘liquid gold’ – so they know that whatever they produce is valuable. And to make up any shortfall, there is donor milk, the availability of which means that babies can still be fed exclusively with human milk. Throughout this, neonatal unit staff should ensure that the mother receives optimal help and support to keep expressing frequently and tell her that her milk will always be prioritised over the donor milk.

There is an irony attached to some stories of milk donation that is not lost on those who work in human milk banks. It is the frequency with which mothers of babies whose first feeds include milk that has been provided by unknown women who have donated it to the milk bank are, within a few short weeks, expressing and storing their own surplus milk that is often then destined to be shared with the sons and daughters of yet more unknown mothers.  

This little boy’s mother explains: ‘Our son was born in November 2020 at 18.59 weighing 695 grams and measuring 30 centimetres. That day I was 24 weeks and 6 days pregnant. Before the anaesthetic had worn off they came to start pumping. Nothing. I felt horrible. I couldn’t even feed my own child? When I did see that first drop of milk I wanted to tell the world. I was so happy’. 

‘He had two operations on his bowels. After the second one we didn’t know if he would make it. He went without mother’s milk for 8 weeks. I started pumping for the National Dutch Human Milk Bank. I could help other mothers but it also helped me. I was pumping more than a litre a day not knowing when he could start with 6 feeds of 3mls each day. It gave me purpose and helped me keep going’. 

‘We spent four months on the Intensive Care unit and I have seen the struggle and pain that is experienced when you try so hard and it isn’t enough. You can do it and I am so proud that I can contribute just a little bit to give a child the best possible start in life.’

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