Q & A: One Mom’s Experience Donating Breastmilk
Human breastmilk is liquid gold, but there are so many moms who have a hard time producing enough milk to support their babies. In a time of need, many moms turn to milk banks. Heather, mom of two and blogger at Cookies for Breakfast, has been donating breastmilk since her daughter, Julia, was born six months ago. I had a chance to ask her a few questions about her experience.
Why did you start donating to the milk bank?
“I decided to donate breastmilk because I'm a HUGE breastfeeding advocate. I realized that I couldn't go running around saying “Breast is best!” without actually doing something to help those moms who physically cannot produce milk for their babies, so milk donation was an obvious choice. I pump once a day, first thing in the morning, and use that milk for my donations. When I first decided to donate breastmilk, I was torn on if I should donate to local moms or to an actual bank. I had an amazing experience donating to a local mom, and we still keep in touch via Facebook, but once I realized how incredibly life saving breastmilk is for preemie babies, I couldn't ignore that and decided to donate to the milk bank. Of course, I still want to also donate to local moms as well, but there's only so much one set of boobs can do! Saving the world one boob at a time? Perhaps!”
How often do you make a “donation”?
“I'm on an irregular donation schedule. My first donation of 175 ounces went to a local mama that I connected with on a Human Milk for Human Babies Facebook page. I was awaiting approval from my local milk bank to donate, and in the meantime, I had a freezer full of milk that would have been too old for the bank by the time I was approved. I donated my first box to the milk bank two months later, and I'm currently working on building my next shipment. Since it's summer, we've had vacations and traveling, and I haven't been as great about sticking to my daily pumping schedule, so this next shipment is taking a while to build.”
Is there a certain amount the milk bank requires for donation?
“My milk bank requires a minimum donation of 150 ounces over the donation period (which must be completed by the time your baby is 1 year old), which I cleared in my first shipment! I sent 278 ounces in my first box.”
What was the screening process like and how long did it take?
“The screening process was pretty simple: I talked to someone from the bank for a phone screening, then they sent me some paperwork to fill out (questionnaires, etc.). My midwife and Julia's pediatrician both had to sign off on forms that stated I was in good health and that donating milk would not be detrimental to my own baby. Once that was finalized, I had to do a quick blood test to screen for potential diseases. After that, I was ‘official!' In total, the process probably took about a month.”
What advice would you give to a mom who is thinking of donating her milk?
“If you are thinking of donating breastmilk, I say, ‘DO IT!' It's the most incredible feeling in the world, and even more so, the most incredible gift. Just adding one pumping session a day to your schedule is all it takes to make a lifesaving difference for a baby in need. My milk goes primarily to NICU babies, who benefit from breastmilk in the most amazing way. Preemies are at a high risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (it's the #2 killer of preemies), and breastmilk cuts down that risk by 79%.”
How do you ship your donated milk?
“The milk bank I work with will send out a box when I'm ready for a shipment. There are several collection centers in the state, but none are within an hour drive from my house, so they're happy to send me a box to ship the milk in. (They even send replacement milk bags!) When I make the call saying I'm ready to ship, they send me a large cardboard box with a styrofoam container inside and all kinds of packing materials and instructions. The milk bags go into plastic grocery-like bags, which help prevent thawing, and I pack as much as possible in the box, which also helps prevent thawing. No ice is needed—it actually makes the milk thaw faster! Once the box is ready to ship, I contact FedEx, and they come to pick up the box from my house free of charge (billed to the milk bank). FedEx delivers it overnight to the bank, so I make sure that my pickup is as late in the day as possible so that it arrives with minimal thawing.”
What happens to your milk once the bank receives it?
“The bank does a quick pasteurization process, which would kill any minor germs, and my milk is combined with all the other donors in large vials. Donor milk is organized by special diets, and it's carefully packaged into tiny bottles, each with specific caloric/fat content that will be used by NICU nutritionists, who determine which babies need which formulation. Pretty amazing!”
Where can I find a milk bank that is closest to my area?
“I donate to a bank that's part of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, and you can find a local center here. If there aren't any near you, or you prefer to donate directly to a mom, check out local Human Milk for Human Babies or Eats on Feets groups on Facebook.
“I've become so passionate about spreading the word of breastmilk donation, because if all the moms who could did, it would make an ENORMOUS impact on the health of the future generation. Everyone knows breast is best—that's what we're all educated on. But in the cases where moms cannot breastfeed, what are they to do? They should still have the option of providing their babies with the benefits of breastmilk, and with the help of donors, they can accomplish that.”
If you have any more questions for Heather about her experience with donating breastmilk to a milk bank, please reach out to her!