Got Breastmilk? To Donate?

By Emily Hulse, MS

 I recently wrote a blog post in honor of National Dairy Month.  I thought I might as well continue with the milk theme for my blog posts seeing how this month is National Breastfeeding Month.  Decades of research have proven that breastmilk is the perfect food for infants and has numerous benefits, some of which are listed below and also pictured:

  • Breastfed babies are generally healthier.
  • Research has shown:- Less diarrhea and gastrointestinal infections
    – Less severe upper respiratory infections, less wheezing, less pneumonia, and less influenza

    – Lower rates of Leukemia and SIDS
    – Less ear infections
    – Stronger immune system

  • Breastmilk is the most easily digested food.
  • It promotes babies healthy growth and development

Research is still continuing in this area and new benefits of breastmilk continue to be identified.  A more recent finding is that breastfeeding helps protect against childhood obesity; breastfeeding for 9 months reduces a baby’s odds of becoming overweight by more than 30%.

Breastfed Baby

I am blessed with 3 children and I’ve seen many of the benefits first hand that are listed above as I’ve breastfed each one of them.  I am grateful that I’ve had positive breastfeeding experiences with each of my babies and I attribute much of this to the following:  a supportive husband, family, and friends, a supportive, flexible work environment, a healthy body that always makes more than enough milk for my babies, and babies that have been good, efficient nursers.  Unfortunately, I know that this isn’t always the case for mothers.  I’ve had friends that have done everything they can but their milk never comes in, friends that don’t have a supportive environment when they return to work and aren’t always able to pump when needed, friends that have had to supplement with formula because their body doesn’t make quite enough milk for their baby, and friends with babies that don’t latch on or nurse well.  I wish the above cases didn’t exist, especially for those mothers who really long to be able to exclusively breastfeed, but the reality is they do.    Was there something I could do to help perhaps?

I remember when I had my second child in 2011, Madison, my mom opened the freezer once and stood there and looked at all of the frozen breastmilk and said, “What are you going to do with ALL of that milk?”  I remember responding with something like, “I don’t know.  I don’t think I’ll be able to use it all.”  At the time, I didn’t know about local milk banks or other places to donate it.  Fast forward to February of this year, I gave birth to our third child, Lincoln James.  (He has stole my ♥)

LJH

Between having Madison and Lincoln, I had learned of the Milk Bank of Iowa thanks to colleagues.  I knew that when I had my third baby, I wanted to be a breastmilk donor so that ALL of that milk and its many benefits could be taken advantage of by babies that needed it most.  “The Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa (http://www.uichildrens.org/mothers-milk-bank) serves hospitalized infants in the Midwest and beyond; the main recipients of donated milk are babies who are the most fragile, vulnerable, and at risk.  When donations permit, they also dispense to infants at home.”

Before having Lincoln, I contacted them to learn more about the process of becoming an approved milk donor because I knew there were certain qualifications I would have to meet.  These consisted of the following:  reading pre-screening information that was e-mailed to me, answering a 5-10 minute verbal questionnaire after the baby was born, filling out about a 10 page questionnaire, getting a signed approval form from both my doctor and my baby’s pediatrician, and going to St. Elizabeth’s for a blood test (which is of NO cost to the donor).  Learn more about it at http://www.uichildrens.org/milk-donor-information/

I knew why it was important that such an intensive process was in place but in all honesty, the process sounded like a lot to me and as a mom with an infant and two other kiddos to care for everything seemed overwhelming at first.  You know how it is – you’re lucky to get a shower in those first few weeks and you’re so sleep deprived it’s hard to function – let alone get the time and energy to have a phone conversation, fill out a bunch of paperwork, and trek over to St. E’s.  Nonetheless, I knew that it was something important and something I really wanted to do so it took me a little while to get everything done (they didn’t rush me through the process I worked through at my own pace) that was required to be an approved donor.  The Mother’s Milk Bank was SO wonderful, understanding, and easy to work with.  They try to make everything as easy as possible for you and answer any and all of your questions.  Also, when you drop your donated milk off at St. Elizabeth’s they come out to your car and pick it up so you don’t have to go inside.  ☺

The Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa asks that if at all possible donors be willing to donate a minimum of 200 oz. over the entire lactation time.  I remember when I first read that and was still pregnant with Lincoln, I told a friend, “200 ounces is A LOT!  I don’t know if I can commit to that much.  Maybe I shouldn’t do it.”  She reminded me that even if I pumped an extra ounce a day that I could easily do it and that it would all add up quicker than I thought.  I was thankful for her reassuring and calming words that day.  Well, fast forward again a bit – my sweet baby boy is now almost 6 months old (I know, how can that be?) – and I can’t believe it but over the past 6 months, I’ve been able to donate about 500 oz. of milk and not just to the Milk Bank of Iowa but to other moms with babies in need of it!!  I share this b/c like I mentioned earlier I hesitated to commit b/c I thought 200 oz. was a lot but my friend was right, it just all added up quickly.

One of my best friends also gave birth to a baby boy shortly before I did and then her husband had a colleague that his wife gave birth to beautiful twin girls shortly after our babies arrived.  Long story short, he expressed to my friend one day while out at lunch with her and her husband how his wife was really struggling with milk supply.  Later my friend was telling me this and said, “Do you think it would be weird if I offered them some of my extra frozen breastmilk?”  I said, “No, I think that would be wonderful and if they would also like some more I would love to give them some too.”  Turns out they didn’t think it was weird at all and they took us up on our offer; their baby’s tummies were very sensitive and it was difficult finding a formula they could tolerate.  I’m glad she stepped slightly out of her comfort zone to offer the milk because they appreciated it.

I also recently learned of a non-profit organization called, “Human Milk 4 Human Babies – Nebraska.”  I was also able to donate a small amount of milk to 3 different Lincoln moms.  There is a facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HM4HB.Nebraska) where people post either if you have milk to offer or if you are in need of milk.  This is different than the milk bank though because you do not go through a screening process or anything.

I never imagined when becoming a milk donor, that not only would I be able to donate to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa, but that I also would be able to donate to four local moms who were really needing breastmilk as well because of babies not tolerating formula well.  So many babies are in need of breastmilk, especially premature babies.  If you are like me and have wondered what to do with that extra milk or know of a friend or family member that is looking for a place to donate hopefully this post has been helpful to you – that is my purpose in writing it.  To inform others of these options and also to help normalize breast milk donation and learn the need for it.

Ekhard E. Ziegler, MD Professor, Divisions of Pediatric Nutrition and Neonatology UI Department of Pediatrics Associate Medical Director and Co-founder, Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa stated,

“Breast milk is more than a food for premature babies, it is powerful medicine that protects these infants.  It is also very easy on their tender stomachs and thus allows babies to reach full feeds sooner.  When moms can’t provide milk for their babies, for whatever reason, milk from healthy donors fills the gap. With few exceptions, donor milk is as good as mom’s own milk in protecting babies from serious illness.”

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