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Milk Donation: Is Sharing Really Caring?

I’m a child of the 80’s. Though breastfeeding was starting to become more of the norm, in the early 80’s you were definitely in the minority if you chose to breastfeed your babe. I was formula fed. My siblings were all formula fed. Most of my soft, squishy baby friends were formula fed. Fast forward a few decades and I’m pretty sure my mom (like many other boomers) was repulsed for a hot minute when she discovered that I chose to breastfeed my kiddos. It just wasn’t “the norm.” 

So, when I was introduced to the idea of milk donation for my fourth child, much like her I thought, “Ew. Weird. Unsafe.” It just didn’t seem to be “the norm.” In my attempts to not contribute to the competitive, mom-shaming society that seems to be blossoming in our world, I knew I thought those things because I was just far too ignorant to really know what it was. 

And what it was for me, was a godsend. 

Milk Donation: Is Sharing Really Caring?

Our son was born a month prematurely. We had planned the best we could for his arrival, but it’s hard to convince your body to get with the program when it delivers a preciously-fragile human a month early. We found ourselves with this beautiful baby boy and my body screaming, “Wait, I need 4 more weeks!” With his early arrival and precarious medical state, we didn’t want to push his body to try to digest formula. We were relieved when they informed us we could borrow milk from the milk bank for a few hours until my body was able to step in.

Or were we?

My mind questioned everything. Where did it come from? Was this normal? What was the screening process? But when it literally comes down to the life or death of your child, the only thing you have left is gratitude. Some selfless mama had donated her overabundance of milk to feed my child. {Thank you}.

In my hormonal stupor, I felt guilty that I couldn’t give my baby his basic needs. After a few days, when I could step in and feed him, I realized how crazy that was. No two birth stories are the same and this was a part of his birth story. No matter how I planned out what I wanted to happen, his story had to unfold on its very own. 

So as time passed and I found myself with an abundance of milk in my freezer, I decided to pay it forward. Some selfless mama shared her surplus with us, it only seemed right that we did the same. I found baby Lillian through HM4HB-Iowa.  I felt drawn to helping this bright-eyed, porcelain-skinned, 6-month baby girl, as her mama had to have surgery which definitely altered the supply and demand in Lillian’s world. Hungry Lillian, let me introduce you to my overstocked freezer. 

I have shipped off over 1,500 ounces to this sweet babe. That is 250 bottles that I have been able to provide this chubby-cheeked cherub all because of this awesome connection. Baby Lillian is happy. Her mama is grateful. My heart is full.

It truly seemed like a win for everyone. 

I am sad to admit that after nursing my first 3 children, I threw away a massive amount of frozen milk that wasn’t past its prime. If you find yourself to be in this same position, check out a few of these sites to see if someone could use your overabundance. I used HM4HB  because I wasn’t screened prior to pumping my surplus stash, but Eats on Feets and the Mothers Milk Bank of Iowa are also looking to connect donors with hungry babies. 

A few things to keep in mind when searching for or donating milk:

1. Consult your healthcare provider prior to giving your baby donor milk.

Nutritional needs of each baby are different depending on age and health. Lucky for us, we were still in the hospital so we had plenty of healthcare consultants to help us make informed decisions.

2. Consider the possible safety risks.

Only accept milk donors who have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk. The milk we used was from the Mothers Milk Bank at UIHC which has strict screening policies and donor guidelines. 

3. Be open and honest in communication

As a donor, I was clear about what I was agreeing to. I was not pre-screened, but I did and would uphold all of the proper safety measures. I would place a cooler of 100-150 oz each Monday morning on my front step at 6am. She would pick up the milk, leave the cooler, and leave a supply of storage bags to cover my expense. 

Pumping has never been a highlight for me.

I have found it to be monotonous, isolating, and restrictive. But knowing that I could provide a gift to someone in need, changed my perspective. So, I pumped for the adoptive mama, whose heart is in baby mode but whose body isn’t. For the struggling mama, who shouldn’t have to choose between buying diapers or buying formula. For the sick mama, who wants to provide breast milk but is focused, first and foremost, on providing a healthy version of herself. For the healthy mama, who gives birth a month early and is grateful that another mama shared her gifts. 

Have you ever been a milk donor or received donor milk?
Would you recommend it to others?

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