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Breast milk donation and behavioural science

02 June 2018
4 min read
Volume 26 · Issue 6

Abstract

What makes us give our money, our time or our possessions to those in need? After his son received an important donation, Michael Sanders began to examine the altrusim behind breast milk banking

If you had told me a year ago that I would be sat here, now, writing to midwives about breast milk, I would have been incredulous. As an economist, working in and around government for more than half a decade, I have written about everything from voter registration to antimicrobial resistance, tax compliance, and giving investment bankers sweets. Having graduated in the middle of the financial crisis, however, I've always tried to stick to my brief: talk about the numbers. If 2008 taught us nothing else, it should have been that economists are at their worst when they're trying (ill-advisedly) to teach their grandmothers to suck eggs. I hope I have steered clear of this so far, yet here I am, writing to midwives about breast milk. How did this happen?

My son, Teddy, was born on 13 March this year. The birth was neither straightforward, nor especially complicated in clinical terms. Significant meconium in the waters meant that giving birth in the midwife-led unit was off the cards from the outset. Transverse shoulders led to forceps, an episiotomy, and a third degree tear, which in turn led to surgery. I have friends and colleagues—people whose stories are not mine to tell—who have had far more traumatic, and far simpler, births than this. Being born at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford at 9.15 pm (just after a shift change), meant that we had a midwife and two student midwives in the room, as well as two doctors to help with the birth and a paediatrician in case of complications from the meconium. I have never felt so looked after by the NHS (in the interests of full disclosure, one of the student midwives was temporarily diverted after my son was born by helping me sit down before I fainted).

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