A charity has seen a 100% increase in demand for donated breast milk as the pandemic has prevented new mothers from accessing key services.
With more mothers undergoing induced labour on their own, being separated from their babies and isolated from sources of medical support, many are struggling to produce their own breastmilk.
The Human Milk Foundation, which helps families feed their babies with donor milk, said that before the lockdown in March it was providing 80 to 90 litres of donor milk per month in the community, which would support around 8 to 10 families.
In recent months, this has increased to up to 250 litres of donor milk for many more families.
Dr Natalie Shenker, co-founder of the Human Milk Foundation and the Hearts Milk Bank, said: “We’ve been incredibly stretched throughout the whole year.
“Demand went up in hospitals, as they were ordering large volumes of donor milk.
“The demand from the community has also increased by 100%, and we’ve been supporting mothers in the most desperate circumstances, from those being treated for cancer and also those who have been unable to access breastfeeding support in the community.”
The charity believes the lack of community support groups and antenatal classes over the past eight months has contributed to more new mothers reaching out to use their service and putting increased pressure on the organisation.
The donated milk is screened for safety to meet specific health requirements.
New mother Kim Howells, from east London, first used donor milk from Hearts Milk Bank in addition to breast milk when she realised she wasn’t producing enough for her baby, Indigo.
“Indigo had just come out of intensive care, so he was already incredibly fragile and ill,” she said.
“The more I started breastfeeding, the more my partner and I noticed Indigo’s weight was dropping. He became very skinny.
“When formula wasn’t working either, our midwife mentioned the idea of donor milk in an addition to breast milk.”
Ms Howells said she had felt “anxious” about using the donor milk at first, but the difference it made to her baby was “huge”.
Neonatal units in hospitals also rely heavily on human donor milk.
By doing so, babies in neonatal units do not have to rely on intravenous nutrition, and it is good for developing the delicate bowels and guts of babies.
Dr Lisa Selkirk, consultant neonatologist at Luton and Dunstable Hospital, said: “By using donor milk we can establish milk feeds, and it’s essential to the care we provide for small and premature babies.
“If we were not able to have the donor breast milk, there would be a delay in establishing feeds for the baby which may be detrimental to their ongoing progress.”
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