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Giving hope to newborns’ families – Lithuania

‘You give hope to newborns’ families’. That is the message the mother of this tiny girl wanted donors to hear. Born a few short months ago weighing 940grams, in reality she shouldn’t yet be here, having arrived 16 weeks early. 

Despite her extreme prematurity it is known to be very important for tiny and vulnerable baby’s guts to have human milk passing through them. This safely stimulates the peristaltic movements that help to expel the meconium that has been building up as babies swallow the amniotic fluid that surrounds them in their mothers’ wombs. Human milk contains hormones and enzymes and anti-inflammatory agents and immunoglobulins and special fatty acids and bioactive proteins that all have a positive impact on the developing immature gut. It contains a myriad, unique and beneficial components that weren’t even known about when substitute baby foods were being developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. And these are all in addition to the nutritional role the milk has with its easily digested molecules in well balanced proportions. In fact, in these early days when very preterm babies will also receive nutrients dripped directly into their blood stream the nutrition that is in the few drops of milk being received is only a part of the story….and although donor milk is not the same or as beneficial as the mother’s own, it is almost universally acknowledged to be the best alternative when maternal milk isn’t available.

Despite the tiny requirements of such tiny babies, it is very usual for their mothers to find it difficult and sometimes impossible to be able to express and collect enough for every feed throughout the first few difficult days whilst coming to terms with the loss of a dream of a fully developed baby to cuddle and feed and instead face the reality of a tiny, vulnerable little person attached to tubes and monitors, naked in their incubator that dwarfs them in size. 

Into this world enter hundreds of thousands of families every year throughout Europe. This baby’s mother is one such parent. She tries to express her milk and for 5 days she isn’t able to collect enough to meet the ideal amount to be fed to her baby through the tube going directly into her tummy. But she perseveres and on the sixth day it happens. Now she has enough. She is so happy to be able to provide all of her daughter’s milk. And she is happy her tiny little girl didn’t receive formula which would have provided nutrients but not the other vitally important components that are only found in human milk. It could also have introduced risks of intolerance and disturbed the development of a healthy gut microbiome which impacts so many other systems within the body. 

And so her milk continues to flow. But for those first days her daughter has received milk donated by unknown women – 150mls in total.  It is the equivalent of a couple of small espresso cups in volume but has brought hope to this mother. It was a gift from other new or maybe not so new mothers who may have travelled a very different journey or they may have themselves been mothers of a premature infant struggling to collect enough milk for their own baby in the early days. In the saddest of situations, they may be a bereaved mother whose milk is donated because it will no longer feed her own child. There are as many scenarios around donation as there are babies being fed. And this mother wants to thank them, whoever they are. In her words ‘I want to thank all human milk donors for your invaluable work: you help newborns to survive, you give hope to their mothers and their families and you support other mothers to lactate and to breastfeed.’

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