Breastmilk donors fill tums of needy newborns
Late at night, after her son is asleep and her study for the day is complete, Robin Atherton sits down to provide breast milk for a baby 200 kilometres away.
The Palmerston North PhD student is one of several women who provide milk for Wellington woman Louise Bell's 7-month-old son Lucas.
Ms Atherton said she saw the regular donations as a way women could help each other and something that she would want everyone to see as "normal".
Lucas, born through a surrogate, has been exclusively fed on donor milk.
"I have donor women all over New Zealand," she said.
"It just blows me away the effort women put in. Nobody is doing this for money - everybody is doing it out of kindness. They want to help other children."
Generally the women met each other through groups set up on Facebook. Mothers returning to work, cancer sufferers and those who struggle to produce milk are among those using the service.
Ms Atherton said she saw her efforts as a way of "paying forward" help she had received from donors when her son Kopi was a newborn.
"When Kopi was born he lost a lot of weight," she said.
Ms Atherton met with a lactation consultant who said she was not producing enough milk and Kopi would need to be fed on formula.
"When you have a baby you can feel a bit lonely, like you're the only person who doesn't know what to do."
The Terrace End resident did not want to use formula and asked about donor milk. The consultant said she could not endorse that.
Upset, Ms Atherton went to the house of a friend who had recently had her own child.
"There's nothing worse than someone saying ‘you've got a baby and you've got no milk'. I went to a friend's house and was really upset, she offered to wet nurse him."
Ms Atherton said she saw an instant improvement in Kopi's health and demeanour.
She had to use donor milk for 10 days before she was able to produce enough for him herself.
"In those days he had milk from eight different women. It would just arrive on the doorstep."
For the past nine months she has been supplying milk to Mrs Bell, expressing it before storing it in the freezer. Mrs Bell's mother-in-law lives in Palmerston North and regularly collects the milk to take it to Wellington.
The social network made it easy for donors and mothers to communicate. However, she said it was still difficult at times to find enough donors to meet demand.