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Donating Breastmilk

Breastfeeding can be a hardcore subject.  If you nurse your baby, for how long? If you don’t, why not? If you do breastfeed, are you allowed to do it in public?

But one thing that most breastfeeders don’t think of is this: Would you donate your breastmilk?

Breastmilk donation came in my mind again when I wrote the blog about Salma Hayek breastfeeding an infant in Sierra Leone while on a vaccination (tetanus) campaign. And when I read about Nadya Suleman breastfeeding her octuplets, I wondered: If we’re not naturally meant to give birth to this many babies, will she be able to keep her supply up? Or will she have to turn to milk donations?

Sharing breastmilk? This may seem weird to even you natural parents.  Sure, I do crafts with my kids and cloth diaper my baby, but donate my breastmilk? Yikes.

When Baby E was a newborn, I pumped almost every morning.  Some nights we had hardcore co-sleeping/breastfeeding sessions.  But often, he’d let up about halfway through the night, leaving me “full” the next morning.  So the next morning we’d settle down together with the Medela and I’d kick out 10 ounces, no problem.

But I was a WAHM.  When was I ever going to need all this liquid gold? My dh couldn’t possibly take me on 150 ounces worth of dates, could he?

I checked with my local La Leche League.  The helpful woman gave me some tips on decreasing my supply, but could not help me pass on my breastmilk.  Not a kosher proposition on their end.

I did what we all do when we’re at a loss: I Googled.  That’s how I found Milkshare, a network of breastmilk donators and parents in need.

Really quite cool, actually.  Some women have “one-time donations.” She’s on a business trip away from her baby and doesn’t want to pack the supply she pumps over the weekend.  Or she’s stocked up her freezer and the “expiration date” is looming, but her baby is often happily latched on. Or she’s a long-term donator: simply a kind mama who works to pump for a child in need, shipping or delivering as often as possible.

I know, I know.  This freaks some people out. Doctors often recommend that families turn to Milk Banks for human breastmilk, as then it has been tested. Hmm.  At $3 an ounce, who can afford that? To remedy, families sometimes ask (or milk sharers offer) for the the medical records.  Because we all had tests run during our pregnancies, this isn’t too tough.

Why do families need breastmilk? Well, first, because they’re brilliant.  They know that it’s much better to give their babies human milk than that of another species. Melamine, schmelamine, they think.

Some have adopted children.  Some have preemies and their own milk supply dried up when the infants were in the NICU.  In the case of my (local) family, this natural mama had a breast reduction years ago and could only supply about half of what her daughter needed.  When I donated, the little one was 9 months old.  Good for her for still getting that breastmilk. In most cases, those in need are working at increasing (or starting, in the case of some adoptions!) milk production.

MilkShare is then, about some hot commodities: trust, sharing, generosity. It’s about need and asking for help.

Even if you’re not giving up your own liquid gold, those are some things we all need nowadays, eh?

Image: Uqbar is back on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Comments

  1. After my son had open heart surgery at four months of age, the doctors suspected he had chylothorax, which meant no breastmilk for six weeks. As I pumped round the clock, it pained me to just pour this milk down the sink drain. The hospital had no milk donation program nor the facility to let me freeze this much milk. In the end, he passed the “breastmilk” challenge and was back on the boob after a few days, but I think every hospital should have a breastmilk bank.

  2. There are something like only 9 hospital based milk banks in the US – most of them will help you out with the logistics of shipping frozen milk, although they may request that you commit to donating a certain amount in order for them to recoup their expenses. I’m lucky enough to live near one and could make monthly drop-offs.

    I donated until my son was a year, at which point they cut me off. I plan to with my second as well.

  3. When my son was an infant 10 years ago, I was a grad student and had to pump for his dad to feed him when I had class. I was, to put it lightly, a good producer, and we had quite an impressive stash.

    I often wished there was a milk bank that I could have donated to, but there wasn’t.

    Now I have a friend across the country who was unable to breastfeed her third baby — tried everything, had no major problems with the first two, but it just didn’t happen. She even tried relactating. If I still lived nearby her, I’d gladly give her my own milk if I could.

  4. The beauty of MilkShare is that it’s 1) free. I mean, besides shipping. And you wouldn’t believe how creative these ladies are when it comes to shipping! Others do regional, so as not to deal with the hassle. 2) I learn so much about increasing my milk supply from the digest. 3) As opposed to breastmilk banks, it’s not anonymous. That also might be hard for some people, but most interactions are just peachy. Donors are giving, recipient families are quite grateful. It’s a cool system.
    I hope to be able to donate again soon. If my little teether lets up a bit! :)

  5. Most Milk Banks provide free shipping provided you can supply a certain amount. I donated to Mother’s Milk Bank in San Jose. They shipped me a cooler to use. Great program.

  6. As a recipient for my last two babies I can’t tell you how GREATFUL I am for the mamas who have donated to my babies. These babies get to grow up healthy and strong and without the additives of fake food (formula) all because of some unselfish mamas. It truly brings tears to my eyes because I cried and cried when I found out I don’t produce enough due to a surgery years ago and I was SOOOOO Greatful for this opportunity.
    All I can say is THANK YOU mamas for a gift that truly lasts a lifetime. Brings sooooo much gratitude to my heart.

  7. Thank you so much for providing this information with us.

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