My Journey as a Breastmilk Donor

Monday, September 07, 2015

Sharing an article I wrote for our office's web publication. :) It didn't make it to last month's International Breastfeeding Awareness Month. But here goes, still part of breastfeeding as one of my biggest advocacies in my parenting journey.


I have been breastfeeding my son, who recently turned two, since birth. He has not taken any milk other than mine. He eats regular meals and snacks these days, but for the first six months of life, we breastfed exclusively. That means no water, no formula, not even vitamins.

I have personally seen how my son and other breastfed babies around me develop and thrive. My son hardly gets sick, and was assessed by his pediatrician to be  advanced in a few notable aspects of development. We are as close as a mother and  young child could ever be.

I will forever treasure our breastfeeding chapter. :)

Breastfeeding has its challenges, but once one gets past the first few critical weeks, breastfeeding can  be the most natural thing ever for a new mother to do.

As with any beautiful thing worth pursuing, breastfeeding comes with  “birth pains” at the start. Mothers  go through a lot during pregnancy and childbirth, and the first few weeks upon giving birth are  a difficult  and vulnerable period for her. It is important to have a  breastfeeding-advocate pediatrician and a solid support group at home to pursue breastfeeding.

One very important thing I learned from attending breastfeeding seminars and from lactation consultants is that breastfeeding is mostly psychological. You have to believe in your body that it is capable of doing what it was designed for in the first place – to nourish your babies. For exclusive and extended breastfeeding to be successful, you have to really want it, to be fully committed to it.

Expressing and Donating Milk

I started expressing milk  shortly before my maternity leave ended. I would pump once, sometimes twice a day, while my baby slept. By the time I came back to office, my frozen milk stash was substantial enough that I had to transfer them to my in-laws’ house since they have a spare deep freezer to accommodate my growing stash. I  tried to express every three to four hours upon my return from maternity leave. My baby would take some of my expressed milk, but the amazing thing was that he would wait for me to come home so he could latch directly and feed to his heart’s content. I pumped whenever I could. Soon, I had so much more expressed milk than my baby could deal with.

I started donating milk when a friend asked for breastmilk for her sick daughter. Then another from my mommy group asked for a few weeks’ supply of milk for her newborn neighbor who lost her mom in childbirth. When Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Visayas in 2013 and the Department of Health called  for breastmilk donors, I immediately donated my entire milk stash, then around 10 liters. I saw how the breastfeeding community really mobilized to help the infants in dire need of breastmilk then. The best part was, it was not a short-sighted hand-to-mouth project. Distribution of donated breastmilk came with a much-needed information campaign. Mothers who were mix-feeding were encouraged to ditch the formula, while those who recently stopped breastfeeding were provided with information, support, and resources to enable them to re-lactate.

That was the start of my monthly donations. I wanted to  donate to a children’s hospital, and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) in Quezon City was easily my top choice. That signalled the start of a wonderful relationship with the PCMC Milk Bank’s nurses and staff. Sometimes they would call me apologetically to ask if I have some spare milk. Thankfully, I have been blessed abundantly and it seemed like I always have something to share whenever I got a call.

Sticking to a pumping schedule at work is not easy. It can become too much of a chore and I would usually miss a session or two. What kept me going was the thought of having something to offer when the PCMC Milk Bank staff knock on my door.

Meeting the Littlest Ones in Dire Need of Donated Milk

Meeting the doctors and nurses tirelessly running PCMC and saving every baby that came their way.
Last month, the PCMC invited me to a simple gathering and awarding of their most frequent breastmilk donors. It was humbling to finally meet the Milk Bank staff and the doctors tirelessly running the hospital, trying their best to save every  baby that came their way. We were ushered into their NICU, to introduce us to their littlest ones that we, in essence, helped feed. It was such a tearjerker to finally meet their littlest ones in the NICU – the topmost priority in the hierarchy of donated breastmilk recipients – bravely soldiering on. Most were premature babies who are on life support (weighing as light as 500  grams and just slightly bigger than my hand), young premature babies who were already operated on, sick babies fighting for life, premature babies who lost their mothers during childbirth. These babies were given nothing but breastmilk. I was crying the whole time I was at the NICU.

Meeting the littlest ones of PCMC.
I stepped out feeling grateful and even more passionate about this biggest advocacy of mine. I also felt complete. Somehow, meeting these babies was the missing piece in my breastfeeding and milk donating journey. I may not know them personally, but I felt very  connected to these little soldiers, and to the hospital that looks after them.

Encouraging Others to Donate

I encourage moms who have a little extra to donate their milk, if they can. What is a blessing to you and your baby may extend lives and may be a reason for some to keep fighting. It does not matter how little extra milk you have each day.

At present, I am only able to express an ounce of extra milk since my body has recognized the lesser demand for milk. I keep thinking I’ve reached the end of my milk-sharing journey, but I always get surprised that until now, I am still able to build a small cache. Miraculously, I still have a few cups in the fridge and at least a dozen more bags in the freezer, waiting to be picked up for donation. I will continue to breastfeed for as long as I can but I know that I will soon be putting aside my “milk donor” hat. I hope a friend or two will fill  in for me.

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