If you read this blog consistently (and chances are you probably don't), then you would know that I have donated breast milk before. After talking to a friend, a recent new mom, about my experience, I realized there are a lot of things to be learned about donating breast milk for those interested. In this blog post, I hope to answer a good number of questions for those interested in saving their own breast milk for others in need. I'll neglect to mention why I donate breast milk and focus on the logistics of HOW.
First of all, let us acknowledge that there are four main ways to donate breast milk and each requires a separate process.
1. Donating to a friend/relative
2. Donating to a national milk bank
3. Donating milk to create fortifiers, Helping Hands Milk Bank
4. Donating using a third party, Human Milk for Human Babies, etc.
Donating to a Friend/Relative
The easiest and also least likely scenario is to donate to a friend or relative who either produces too little breast milk or cannot produce at all.
*After your baby has finished their feeding, use a breast pump (hand pump, double electric, rented from the hospital...) to empty your breasts of milk.
*Pour the breast milk into special breast-milk baggies (sold at Wal-Mart, grocery stores, Babies-R-Us, etc.) and freeze them.
*Give the frozen milk to your pal in need. They will be able to thaw your breast milk in warm water and bottle feed their infant with it. NEWS FLASH Breast milk is valid for MONTHS in the freezer.
Donating to a National Milk Bank
I donated using the Rocky Mountain Milk Bank.
Why? I liked what they did with the milk (80% to NICU babies), its sterility, and the ease of donating.
*Register as a donor. Go to their web page and send them an e-mail letting them know you are interested. They are thorough in who can and cannot donate (thankfully) and will send you a form or two to see if you are eligible to donate.
*Once you have registered as a donor, you will have a brief phone interview to make sure you and your baby are healthy enough to donate. Given the thumbs up, you can start collecting.
*To collect milk, wash your breasts and use a clean breast pump to collect milk after your baby has finished feeding. Pour this milk into special breast-milk baaggies (sold at Wal-Mart, grocery stores, Babies-R-Us, etc. Additionally, the milk bank will ship some to you free of charge if you need them) and freeze them.
*Once you have a sizable amount of frozen milk (think 50-100 ounces [When you become a donor, you commit to donating 150 ounces during your donation time period]), call the milk bank. They will send you a special box in the mail to ship your milk.
*Once the box has arrived, call a shipping company (the RMCHF Milk Bank will provide you with the information you need) to set up a pick up. The milk bank pays for the shipping: all you need to do is call for a pick up and to buy a few pounds of dry ice. You will pack your frozen milk and dry ice via the instructions from the milk bank and the shipping company will pick up your package and whisk it away to the milk bank.
*NOTE* On your first shipment, you will need to send blood samples. With these, all you need to do is make an appointment with your regular doctor who will take the necessary blood samples (free of charge to you) and give them to you so that you can send them along with your frozen breast milk. The blood samples are another way to ensure the milk bank's high standards of clean, disease free donors.
*The frozen milk you ship will be thawed, pasteurized, and mixed with the milk of several other mothers to balance any possible nutritional deficiencies. It is parceled into 4 ounce containers and shipped all over the country to those in need.
*Hooray! You just donated life-saving breast milk.
Donating Milk to Create Fortifiers, Helping Hands Milk Bank
Any breast milk donating using this method is unique; all breast milk collected is used to make a fortifier for breast milk that is used for infants in the NICU. The method for collection is very similar to donating to a national milk bank, but the end purpose of the milk is different. To better illustrate the end purpose of the breast milk, I have a story from a mother who used the Helping Hands Milk Bank's fortifier when her child was in the hospital.
What they don’t tell you about the NICU is how scary it can be. The moment my little boy was born, that moment that is supposed to be beautiful and so rewarding, he was whisked off down the hall with little explanation other than that something was wrong. Watching my baby struggle for oxygen hours later, when I was finally permitted to see him, was one of the hardest things I have
ever had to do.
I had always planned on nursing, at least in the beginning. We all know that breast milk is the best thing for our children when it’s possible. But in NICU care, things don’t go always the way we plan. When babies are extremely underweight (2 pounds 12 ounces or less), they need more than their mother's milk to thrive. Once they are able to take milk, (either through a feeding tube or
bottle), a fortifier is added to breast milk to ensure the babies get the nutrition they need in their tiny stomachs. This fortifier is often derived from cow's milk, which isn't ideal.
It wasn’t until days after his birth that I was finally able to nurse for the first time. We were blessed in that my son was a full term baby and able to get his nutrition from me fairly quickly. As soon as we got the hang of feeding, I got to take him home. He is now a healthy, happy kid full of energy. I met other moms who had been in the hospital for weeks, without the positive outlook we had. If I could have done something to help them, I would have.
If you like what Helping Hands Milk Bank does, here is information you'll need to donate with them.
Helping Hands Milk Bank
is a virtual milk bank that allows qualified donors to make breast milk donations from the comfort of their home. Prolacta Bioscience collects excess breast milk from mothers who donate through Helping Hands and processes it into a breast milk fortifier made from 100% human milk (rather than cow milk) for critically ill, premature
infants in NICUs.
The process is simple. Helping Hands allows busy mothers to apply online in about 15 minutes. Helping Hands supplies storage containers, and covers all shipping costs & supplies, so there is no out-of-pocket cost to the donor, and she doesn't have to travel anywhere to donate her breast milk.
Donate Using a Third Party, Human Milk for Human Babies
Similar to donating to a friend, you can use an organization to find someone in need of breast milk for their child and work with them to set up a pick-up/drop-off of breast milk. I like Human Milk for Human Babies, because they have many different local Facebook pages, so all you have to do is:
*Like the Human Milk for Human Babies of your area on Facebook
*Look at their Facebook page to see who is in need
*Contact the person who needs breast milk and determine an amount to donate and in what form (liquid, frozen, etc.)
*Donate your stored breast milk
(Human Milk for Human Babies doesn't provide any actual services/compensation/guarantees etc. They work only as a facilitator to connect two parties, one donating milk and the other receiving.)
In the end, breast milk is a pretty miraculous thing that our bodies can create. The opportunity to donate it to anyone in need is wonderful. Look through this list, find what suits your lifestyle best and, if your health and the health of your little one will allow, donate, donate, donate!