Recognising women who give: how one mum gave hope by giving breast milk

Recognising women who give: how one mum gave hope by giving breast milk

When Janske’s twins were born at just 25 weeks, her doctors told her how important it was to try and express milk, even if it was just one drop. To her own surprise, she managed to fill one tiny syringe. 4 years later, no one could have imagined Janske would have donated over 65 litres of breast milk for countless premature babies, just like her boys.

Every year thousands of babies are born prematurely. These little lives are incredibly vulnerable and ensuring they receive enough nutrition is vital, which is why Lifeblood decided to take their expertise in blood donation and use them to collect breast milk. In 2018, Australian Red Cross Lifeblood opened its first milk facility in New South Wales. Since then, we have collected more than 10,000 litres of breast milk, providing vital nutrition to more than 4,500 pre-term babies. While these numbers are impressive, it only tells half the story. The real story is the women who selflessly give their breast milk – women like Janske.

‘It just felt like the right thing for me to do… It was something I did not have second thoughts about.’ – Janske Bergmans

It should come as no surprise that Janske volunteered to become a breast milk donor, helping those in need has always been part of her nature, especially children. As an Early Intervention therapist, she’s dedicated her career to providing care for babies and young children living with disability or developmental delays. In a way, giving breast milk was a natural extension of the work she already does.

Despite the health challenges their twin boys experienced while in the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Janske and her partner Luuk considered themselves lucky. Being able to produce breast milk meant Janske could provide her boys with sustenance, and at a time when she felt powerless, giving breast milk was one of the few ways she could care for her babies. As her twins could only tolerate a small amount of breast milk, Janske was having to store any excess in her freezer at home. Pretty soon she’d filled up her own freezer as well as the hospital’s. Not ones to let good milk go to waste, Janske and Luuk purchased an additional 60-litre freezer, but pretty soon that filled up too!

With no room left to store the milk at home, Janske asked the hospital if she could donate her excess breast milk to other mothers and premature babies. When she learned that Lifeblood had begun collecting breast milk, she was so excited to start donating, ‘It just felt like the right thing to do…It was something I did not have second thoughts about.’ Janske began donating in 2018, providing nourishing breast milk to babies across Australia – and freeing up a bit of space in her freezer while she was at it. Over 4 years, she donated 65.7 litres of milk to eight different hospitals across New South Wales and South Australia, providing breast milk to countless babies in need and hope to their parents. As Janske’s nurse said when she expressed for a very first time – ‘she’s a champion’.

If you’re inspired by Janske’s story and would like to learn more, you can read about Lifeblood’s collection process and check your eligibility here. While not everyone can give breast milk, there are other ways you can show your support. To celebrate International Women’s Day, Lifeblood has created a limited-edition bandage (available March 2023) in recognition of all the amazing women who give blood, milk, and time, to make the work we do possible. To grab yours, book a blood donation today.

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