You have decided to give one of the most monumental gifts that anyone can give another; the gift of parenthood.  Once the intended parents, or parent, embark on their lives with their new little one, you may be left wondering about this ability for your body to produce milk and what to do with this. You may have an agreement with the intended parents to pump and store your milk to provide for the baby you gave birth to if proximity allows. However,  if for whatever reason, the milk is not needed, or cannot be accessed for the baby you gave birth to, there are alternative options to donate the milk to other babies in need.

You may be thinking about how much you have already given of yourself through pregnancy, and pumping and donating milk may be more than you are prepared to commit to, but expressing milk can benefit you as a surrogate, and storage and donation do not necessarily have to be a part of this.

Expressing breastmilk has many potential benefits to someone who has given birth.

The release of oxytocin through the production and expression of breastmilk can help the uterus contract and return to its normal size. Breastmilk production can help with hormone regulation after birth, which can help your body to emotionally and physically transition from pregnancy into the postpartum period. There may also be numerous future health benefits to your body when you express breastmilk, as certain disease rates are reduced in women that have breastfed.

If you are considering donating your expressed breastmilk, there are several considerations to make prior to giving birth.  In the initial postpartum period, you will begin to produce colostrum, which is the first milk your breasts will produce. Colostrum is very rich and concentrated with antibodies, vitamins, minerals; it’s often referred to as ‘liquid gold’ because of its incredibly richly nutritious nature. In order to encourage further milk production, you will want to establish a plan to express this colostrum in the first few hours of birth.  Learning about hand expression techniques or pumping options are both important considerations. Some choose to purchase a pump, others choose to rent a commercial pump, which is often available through public health, certain pharmacies, or through some lactation consultants. Whichever expression method you choose to use, it would be helpful to familiarize yourself with how it is used before birth so you have one less thing to learn afterward.

Once your milk has established, you will be pumping for around 10-15 minutes around 6 times per day, in order to maintain your milk supply.  Pumping this regularly means you want to set yourself up for success.  It would be helpful to prepare a space for yourself that is comfortable and cozy to pump in, one that will have comforts and necessities nearby, a spot to place your tea, a good book nearby, maybe a spot to charge your phone. Treat your body like a breastfeeding mother would; adequate nutrition, additional calories, and proper hydration are all essential to care for your body during this time.

So, what do you do with the milk if you are not donating it to the intended family? There are several routes you can go: you can find a baby in need and work out a system of storage and transfer.  There are many babies that can benefit from breastmilk donations, such as preterm babies, adopted babies, or babies of mother’s who have low/no milk supply but really want to offer breastmilk to their child. There are also regulated milk banks, which have a formal protocol for milk donation and provide screening of participants to ensure the safety of the milk.  You can check out this website for more info on donating milk  http://www.hm4hb.net/

There are several things to ponder when making the decision to express breastmilk after a surrogate pregnancy. This is a choice that only you can make, and one that is worth careful consideration of all of the factors involved, whichever option you choose. Even if you decide to only pump for the first few days, both you and the receiver of the milk can reap the rewards.

Guest Blogger Jody Richards is a proud birth and postpartum doula with In Bloom Births in the Comox Valley, BC.