Profession – Lactation consultant, IBCLC
Location – Massachusetts
When did you start donating breast milk?
I started donating breast milk in August 2010, when my daughter was a few months old. I live in Massachusetts, but I primarily donated to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas. I also made smaller donations to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of San Jose while I was there over the holidays. I also hope to make a final donation to the brand new Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England.
How much do you think you’ve collected over the course of donation?
I expect to have donated 10 gallons by the time my daughter is a year old.
What was the process like getting approved to be a donor?
It was fairly simple. The process involved a phone interview, a written interview, blood work, and forms from my nurse midwife and my baby’s pediatrician. It didn’t take long and the milk bank’s staff was always available to answer questions.
Do you get compensated to be a donor?
No. Donors to HMBANA milk banks are not compensated. I’m not aware of any milk banks that pay donors.
Do you ever get to hear about families you’ve helped?
I don’t get to hear about the specific families my milk has gone to, though I do hear a lot of stories about the recipients of donor milk from different milk banks. It wouldn’t really be possible to figure out who has received my milk because the milk banks combine different donors’ milk as part of processing. This evens out differences in donors’ milk.
What tools do you use to bank your milk?
I use a hospital grade pump which I own, though a personal use pump would also work, milk storage bags, microwave sterilizer bags and packaging materials provided by the milk banks. I also purchase dry ice to package the milk for shipping.
What tools do you use to be successful at breastfeeding?
I use the standard things such as a nursing pillow, reusable-nursing pads, nursing bras, milk storage bags, etc.
How has the Milkies Milk Saver helped you? Is it a part of your breast feeding routine?
I used Milkies Milk Saver early on in breastfeeding when I had a pretty serious oversupply. It allowed me to catch the extra milk. I used the milk collected from the Milk Saver to introduce a bottle to my baby.
How much time do you spend each week pumping and delivering donated milk? Tell us about the commitment involved.
I pump once a day. Initially I pumped in the morning, and now I pump at night just before bed. Pumping feels like part of my daily routine and doesn’t take long. Once every few months, when our freezer is getting crowded and I have a few hundred ounces stored, I package up the milk and send it off.
Why do you think milk banking is important?
I’m a lactation consultant (IBCLC) and I learned about donor milk banking as part of my training. I’ve never worked in a NICU setting, but I know that donor milk can be lifesaving. Preterm babies, especially very low birth weight infants, are at risk for developing a condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). An estimated five to 20% of babies can develop the condition. It is essentially gangrene of the gut, and a section of the baby’s intestine dies. The mortality rate is high – about 1 in 4 will die from it. Donor milk is estimated to reduce the risk of NEC by 77% (and 90% for very low birth weight infants). And it’s expensive; a case of surgical NEC costs an estimated $350,000. Donor milk has also been shown to reduce the incidence of late onset sepsis, allow for earlier full enteral feedings, and shorten hospital stays. So all of these things factored into my decision to becoming a milk donor.
Why did you personally decide to do it?
I’m very motivated by the idea that my extra milk can save the life of a very vulnerable baby. I had wanted to donate with my first child, but at the time HMBANA milk banks wouldn’t accept milk from women who had traveled to Africa. That changed in the time between my kids (they now exclude mothers who have visited a few specific countries in Africa), and I was thrilled to be able to participate.
What words of wisdom would you offer a mom interested in doing it herself?
I’d tell moms that their milk has a lot of value and could save an infant’s life. Demand for donor milk has tripled in the last ten years, and will continue to increase as more NICUs make it the standard of care. There is already a serious shortage right now. So I’d encourage anyone interested to pursue it.
I’d also tell moms not to be deterred by the minimum donation amounts set by the milk banks. The minimum is generally between 100 to 200 ounces. They need to set these minimums because it costs them a lot to screen a donor, and they need to be able to get enough milk to make it worth the cost. While 100 ounces seems like a lot, if you pump 4 ounces a day, you can produce that amount in 25 days. And since you can donate up until your baby is a year old, there’s plenty of time to accumulate that amount.