A mother has become a breast-milk donor to dozens of families across the UK after producing enough supplies to fill three freezers.
Mother-of-one Harriet Tutton, 28, from Barry, Wales, started expressing her milk when her 23-month-old daughter Luna struggled to latch on as a newborn, but soon produced enough to fill three freezers.
After becoming a breast-milk donor on the Facebook site ‘Human Milk 4 Human Babies’, Ms Tutton has donated to around 20 families across the UK with some driving for five hours to collect her supplies.
She has even made a lifelong friend in breast-milk recipient Kay Elliot, 32, from Cardiff Bay, who suffered ‘horrendous’ pain while trying to breastfeed her son Ollie.
This comes after the The Department of Health is coming under increasing pressure to issue more guidance to these mothers, as milk sharing is not recommended by the NHS.
Experts warn donating milk is unregulated and has a significant risk of passing on life-threatening infections such as hepatitis B and even HIV. Even legitimate hospital milk banks reject several donations a month for safety reasons, they add.
Wales has no milk banks with hospitals being forced to rely on specialist couriers to deliver breast milk from centres in Chester and Birmingham.
Up to five per cent of women in the UK struggle to breastfeed as they do not produce enough milk.
Harriet Tutton started expressing her milk via the Facebook group ‘Human Milk 4 Human Babies’ when her 23-month-old daughter Luna (both pictured) struggled to latch on
She has since become a breast-milk donor to dozens of families across the UK after producing enough milk to fill three freezers, with some driving five hours to collect her donations
Ms Tutton says some people criticise her for donating her milk but others really appreciate it
‘It’s a feeling you can’t beat’
Ms Tutton said: ‘One mother had a premature baby and she used my milk as a fortifier. There’s so much you can do with it.’
‘It’s just a feeling you can’t beat and people really appreciate it.
‘I’ve had boxes of chocolate and thank you cards. You get pictures of the children growing up and it’s nice knowing you contributed to their life.’
Donating her breast milk has also made Ms Tutton a lifelong friend in Ms Elliot, with the pair regularly meeting up for play dates with their children.
Ms Elliot said: ‘My supply plummeted and Harriet had this amazing oversupply to feed all the babies in the Vale of Glamorgan so she asked if I wanted some to take the pressure off.
‘I had breastfed my other sons so not to breastfeed wasn’t an option for me.
‘Anyone who knows me will tell you it’s one thing I’m passionate about and fits in with my parenting ethos.’
‘Obviously we know the majority of woman are screened throughout pregnancy so breast milk sharing wasn’t an issue for me.
‘It’s lovely knowing Harriet has provided sustenance for my son and he adores her and Luna.’
Yet, despite the friends Ms Tutton has made, she receives mixed reactions to her decision to donate her breast milk.
She said: ‘There is quite a lot of negative words about informal breast milk sharing. Some people don’t agree with it but the people I’ve spoken to can’t believe their eyes and they are so grateful.
‘If any mothers want to feed their baby through breast milk they should be allowed.’
Sarah McHugh had excess breast milk after expressing for her daughter Harriet (both pictured). She donates her milk online, saying ‘there’s an unwritten trust’ between mothers
New mother Bex Poole struggled to breastfeed her son Theo (pictured) and appealed for help on Human Milk 4 Human Babies after a friend recommended it
Ms Poole (pictured) now has a freezer full of Ms McHugh’s donated breast milk
‘Significant risk of passing on infection’
Unlike online ‘milk banks’, hospitals carefully inspect donations according to NICE guidelines with the milk first being screened for infections and mothers also having their blood tested to ensure they do not carry infections that could be passed to babies.
The milk is then pasteurised and frozen before it is ready to be used.
Dr Gemma Holder, a consultant neonatologist at Birmingham Women’s Hospital told the BBC: ‘Fresh donor milk has significant risk of potentially passing on infection, particularly if you don’t know how it was handled.
‘We still get a couple of donors a month, for example, whose milk we aren’t able to accept.’
The Food Standards Agency does not recommend mothers share breast milk and urges those wishing to donate or struggling to breastfeed contact their local hospital for advice.
Yet Dr Sally Dowling, from University of the West of England, argues mothers have always shared milk, with the World Health Organization even supporting the practice as an alternative for those who cannot breastfeed.
She adds mothers are typically thorough at ensuring the women they receive milk from are healthy and hygienic.
SNP politician Alison Thewliss, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for infant feeding, believes the rest of the UK should follow One Milk Bank for Scotland, which is part of the health service and ensures breast milk can be collected, processed and distributed safely.
‘There’s an unwritten trust among breastfeeding mums’
Despite concerns over safety, breast-milk donor Sarah McHugh, from Kidderminster, insists ‘there’s an unwritten trust among breastfeeding mums,’ the BBC reported.
Ms McHugh, who also uses the Human Milk 4 Human Babies group, donated supplies to new mother Bex Poole, from Wolverhampton, after she struggled to breastfeed her son Theo and was reluctant to give him formula.
Ms McHugh wrote on the social media page that she was healthy, a non-smoker and donated to hospitals’ milk banks to reassure other mothers.
The pair were only available to meet late at night, which they said gave the transaction an illicit feel.
They have since become close, with Ms Poole’s freezer being full of Ms McHugh’s breast milk.