The female body is a pretty amazing thing. I continue to be amazed that while I went to work everyday and sat in front of a computer, my body went to work creating a human baby. And then, it knew when to release this baby into the world and then it knew how to make something that would keep that baby alive. And on top of that, this little baby human that can’t walk, talk, communicate with words, knew (in theory) how to get that something out of my body so that it can stay alive. And as I sit here typing, my body continues to just go on making milk. And for me, it makes a lot of it.
I don’t know how many moms will be able to relate with me on this, or how many will hate me for posting about this topic. I don’t know how many will think it’s neat that we can feed each others’ children and or how many might think it’s weird and maybe even gross? But, if even one person is looking for this information and having trouble finding it in one place like I was, then it’s worth writing about. Disclaimer: I am in no way formally educated about breast feeding and I speak only from my own experience and research.
A little background on me. My first child failed to latch on. We tried everything. I had a crazy supply and on top of that I pumped every three hours on both breasts for 20 minutes. I was over pumping, but I didn’t realize it. And as you may know, breast milk production is based largely on supply and demand. I bought a chest freezer and I stock piled. I stopped pumping during the day just before she was three months old and I headed back to work. Because my supply was so plentiful, I suffered greatly from clogged ducts and the fear of mastitis consumed me. I also worried that I was suffering some PPD related to pumping so much and not bonding with my new baby. I fed her pumped milk exclusively for a few months and then she got one breast milk bottle a day for several more months from my freezer supply. It’s what worked for us.
This time around we got the tongue tie taken care of before we left the hospital and my second daughter breastfed successfully. We had our hiccups, but we fell into a nice groove pretty quickly without much assistance. Again, my supply is wonderful. Because she’s home with my mom during the day for now, we are able to save hardly touched bottles until the next feeding, something we would not get away with at daycare. This allows us to use less milk during the day. I don’t freeze much lately, but when I was prepping to go back to work I was able to build up quite a stock pile again.
So, I found myself with over 100 ounces of milk that I did not need in the standard freezer. Milk in a self-contained freezer unit of a refrigerator/freezer is good for 6 months, per this website. If I still had that chest freezer, it would have been good for 12 months. I don’t anticipate needing any frozen milk until she heads to daycare at just three months shy of a year old and by then this frozen milk would no longer be usable. Also, lately in New England we’ve been losing power for longer than a day for the last few years, so I wanted to be sure I didn’t have a freezer full of milk to lose! So, I did some research regarding breast milk donation and I’m documenting those options here.
By far, this website laid out the options for me in the best way.
As they state, there are really three options:
- Formal milk donation to a HMBANA milk bank, to help babies in the NICU
- Formal milk donation to Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit milk processing company, usually through a milk depot that calls itself a “milk bank”
- Informal milk donation, mother-to-mother
For us in New England, the closest milk bank, as listed by Human Milk Banking Association of North America, is near Boston. I contacted the milk bank directly and they could not take my milk. Since my milk was stored in a self-contained freezer unit of a refrigerator/freezer, it needed to be no older than 3 months. Also, I would have needed a minimum of 150 ounces. I did have close to that, but wanted to keep some for me. I contacted them for more info and they wanted me to stress that the 150 ounces doesn’t have to be at one time, it can be over time. Milk in a freezer like mine needs to be less than 3 months old and milk from a deep freezer needs to be less than 6 months old. They can accept milk pumped up until your baby is one year old. If you think you might like to donate, please visit their website and email them for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org
The second option is donating to a for-profit milk processing company. It looks like they do a lot of really great things, but some of the stuff I read led me to feel that this was not the option for me as long as the other options existed. It looks like many other milk banks not associated with HMBANA sell their milk to the for-profit company. Just do your research and do what feels best for you. You can visit Prolacta’s website for more information.
The third option, and the one that became the only option for me, is informal milk donation from mother to mother. I started out with the suggestions from my resource above. I also contacted the birth training coach from my hospital and she sent me a few resources but was not able to help me directly. You could use these resources if you’re looking to donate, as well as if you’re looking to receive milk.
- Milk Share: A portal for connecting with other mothers. Donors sign up for a free account. If you are wishing to receive milk you’re asked to sign up with a $20 donation.
- Milk Match: Another portal for connecting with other mothers. I signed up for an account, but the admin never approved my account.
- Facebook: You can connect with other mothers through local groups. I posted my offer of 100 ounces of breast milk to one local and one non-local mom’s group. It is ultimately here where I made the connection with the family to whom I donated (locally).
- Eats on Feet (a play on Meals on Wheels): I connected with this group’s local group on Facebook and was going to post there if I didn’t have any takers on the mom’s group page.
- La Leche League: I’m not really sure how involved they’d get on connecting you to another mom, but I’m sure they’d have further resources.
You’ll have to decide how you feel about receiving milk from a donor – would you like them to be tested? Would you like to look into pasteurization? My recipient felt reassured by my health profile and the fact that I use this milk for my own child as well. Overall, this experience has been very positive for me. I connected with the recipient mom easily through Facebook (we even had a mutual friend) and was able to drop off the milk to her locally. She tells me how nice it is to go into her freezer and not worry about the milk she’s taking out. And her appreciation motivates me to drink more water and pump more, in hopes of being able to make another donation to her in the future.