Have you ever considered donating breast milk? Did you know that it was even a possibility? Moms today can easily donate their breast milk to a local milk bank, where the milk is then distributed out to babies in need.
Often, these babies have medical conditions, such as being a NICU baby, that have prevented them from receiving their own mother’s milk in one way or another. In other situations, the mother is unable to produce the breast milk needed to feed her baby, or is unable to produce milk with sufficient nutrients to meet her baby’s needs.
Whatever the case may be, there are definitely lots of babies out there who are unable to drink their own mother’s milk. And that’s where milk banking come in. Breast milk banks allow mothers to donate their breast milk to be given to babies in need.
While I have never donated myself, I was recently able to visit a local breast milk bank with a friend of mine who was donating milk. It was a pretty cool experience to see the facility and how it all works! And of course, learn more about how donating milk helps others in need.
Keep reading to learn more about how to donate your breast milk, and what happens to it after you donate.
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Breast Milk Banking
Reasons You Might Donate Breast Milk
Before we jump into how to go about donating your breast milk, let’s talk for a minute about some of the reasons you might want to donate your milk.
You Have Excess Pumped/Expressed Milk
You might want to donate milk if you have extra pumped or expressed breast milk that your baby will not use. Perhaps you pumped with the intention of bottle feeding, but your baby refuses to take a bottle. This may leave you with refrigerated or frozen milk that you cannot use, because your baby won’t drink from a bottle.
Or, perhaps you just pumped more than what your baby eats, leaving your with an excessive amount leftover. Another scenario may be that your baby has weaned, but you still have frozen milk that was never used.
If you find that you have an oversupply of breast milk, you may choose to donate it. If you feed on demand, it is likely that an oversupply will eventually regulate to the amount your baby needs. However, choosing to pump the extra milk instead is an excellent way to adequately feed your own baby and also have enough leftover to donate to a milk bank.
You Want To Give Back To Babies In Need
Donating breast milk doesn’t necessarily have to be a matter of convenience. You can also donate for the sole sake of giving to babies in need! Any amount of extra milk you have can be of benefit to a baby in need. There’s a reason it’s referred to as liquid gold!
Your Child Passed, But You Are Still Lactating
If this is the case for you, let me take a moment to say that I am very sorry for your loss. Child loss is an extremely difficult thing, and I won’t pretend to know how that feels.
For some mothers, donating breast milk after their baby has passed has been a source of healing for them. At the milk bank my friend and I visited, they had a memorial tree on their wall with the names of babies who had died, and whose mothers choose to continue pumping and donate their milk. It was both very sad and very beautiful at the same time.
If your child has passed and this is something you would like to do, you may find it to be a healing step.
Reasons You Might Need Donated Milk
On the flip side, you might be in a position where your own baby needs donated milk. Sometimes this happens for medical reasons, and sometimes it happens because the mother simply does not want to breastfeed or cannot breastfeed.
While formula is always an option in place of breast milk, it is generally acknowledged that breast milk it typically the most nutritionally beneficial food to feed your baby. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but in general this is the case for healthy moms and babies.
Feeding donated breast milk can be a great option to keep feeding your baby breast milk, without actually breastfeeding yourself. Remember, there is no shame to choosing not to breastfeed your baby. Do what works best and is most beneficial for you, your child, and your baby.
For your benefit, I’ll briefly cover a few reasons you or another mother may want to feed donated milk.
You Are Not Lactating/Insufficient Lactation
When a baby is born, most mothers are able to produce colostrum, and later mature milk, to feed their baby. However, there are circumstances that may prevent that from happening. Some mother’s struggle to have their milk come in for a variety of reasons.
Other mothers are unable to take maternity leave, and are unable to sufficiently stimulate their breasts to produce milk, or adequate milk for their baby.
In other cases, your milk may dry up or severely drop before your baby is ready to wean. This actually happened to me after both my baby and myself got sick when he was about six months old. My supply severely dropped, and despite all my efforts, I never was able to get it to increase sufficiently.
Your Milk Has Insufficient Nutrients
Look, I’m not trying to step on any toes here. It is well known that pro-breastfeeders highly emphasize that your body creates milk that is perfect for your baby, with the perfect balance of all the nutrients your child needs. And in most cases, that is true.
However, this also isn’t a perfect world. While the majority of mothers are able to produce breast milk perfectly suited for their babies, the reality is that some aren’t. And that is not necessarily any fault of their own.
Sometimes the cause is a medical issue or circumstances that you have absolutely no control over. In these cases, using donated milk can be a great way to ensure your baby has nutrient rich breast milk and still get all the amazing benefits of it.
Baby’s Mother Has Passed
In the event that a baby’s mother has passed, donated milk is a great way to provide the baby with breast milk. When this is the case, it can be extremely hard on the family, as well as the baby. Providing donated breast milk during feeds can help to provide even a small comfort in knowing that the baby is getting all the nutritional benefits of breast milk, even in the event of a tragedy.
You Don’t Want To Nurse Or Pump
Or, maybe the mother simple doesn’t want to nurse or pump herself. If this is the case, it’s totally okay. I think often times we forget about what is most beneficial for the mother in the name of providing breast milk to the baby.
Look, I am all for breastfeeding. I am all for helping moms figure it out, and not giving up at the first sign of difficulty. But I also know how mentally taxing it can be. And if I’m being honest, I don’t think that it is worth sacrificing your mental or physical health just to say that you breastfed.
I encourage you to try. I encourage you to find people to support you, to find help when you’re having trouble with it, to give it your best shot. But, if it becomes too much and you just can’t do it, I will not for one second think any less of you.
How To Donate Breast Milk
Now, on to how to go about donating your breast milk, if you choose to do so.
Find A Milk Bank Near You
First, find a milk bank near you! You can do this by googling “breast milk bank near me” to find ones in your area. Also ask other nursing mothers you know, the maternity ward of your local hospital, or your child’s pediatrician.
My friend used Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas, which is the one she and I went to visit and tour when she dropped off her donated milk. If you are in or near the Dallas/Fort Worth area, this is a great milk bank to use!
Complete Screening Process
Once you’ve found your desired bank, you’ll need to contact them to find out what their exact approval process is. The exact process may differ from bank to bank. For the milk bank we visited, their approval process was a fairly easy, four step process.
- Phone Call – A preliminary screening is conducted over the phone, to determine if you are able to donate.
- Interview – The interview consists of a full medical history, which is used to determine if your milk will be suitable to be donated. Some medical conditions may prevent you from being approved.
- Blood Draw – Your blood will need to be drawn and tested.
- Drop Off – Once you are approved, you will be free to drop off milk to your milk bank whenever you have some to donate!
The good news is that once you are approved, you will be able to drop off milk without jumping through hoops every time. The whole screening process just helps to ensure that the milk has adequate quality and is free from any substances that would make it unhealthy to feed to another baby.
Once approved, your chosen milk bank will provide you with information on how to store, freeze, and label your milk for drop off. Be sure to follow all their instructions to prevent your milk from being disqualified!
What Happens To Your Donated Milk
But then what? What happens to the milk once you’ve dropped it off? When you go to drop off milk, don’t be afraid to ask for a tour of your specific facility, and to see how the milk gets processed for redistribution!
My friend and I toured Mothers’ Milk Bank, and it was so cool to see how it all goes down. It had never even occurred to me that anything would happen to breast milk between being dropped off and being sent to hospitals and babies in need.
The following is the process used by Mothers’ Milk Bank. Your bank will likely use a similar method.
Thawed, Strained, & Combined
First, your milk will stay in a refrigerated cooler or freezer until it is ready to be processed. Once it’s your milk’s turn, it will be carefully thawed and strained from the bags into a glass container. Straining it ensures that any hair or other substances that may have accidentally fallen in is removed.
Your milk may be batched by itself, or it may be combined with milk from one or more other mothers. This is to ensure every batch has the same calorie count and similar nutritional qualities.
Bottled & Labeled
Once the milk has been strained and combined to the correct calorie count, it is divided up into bottles. Bottles will typically be about three ounces (which is considered a serving size). Although, some banks may bottle larger amounts too.
Each bottle is given a label and barcode that tells the calorie count and nutritional values. Barcoding the bottles also helps to track batches as they are shipped out and received at hospitals. The labels also include an expiration date, which is based on the earliest date marked on the milk included in that particular batch.
Pasteurized & Tested
Next, the bottles of milk are carefully pasteurized to kill any bad bacteria. No worries, great care is taken to ensure that the milk is adequately pasteurized without destroying the important nutrients in the milk.
After pasteurization, one bottle from each batch is removed and tested. If the milk fails the tests, the whole batch will be thrown out. If the tests come back looking good, the batch will move on to the distribution phase. No milk from a particular batch is allowed to leave the facility until the tested bottle comes back as clean from bacteria and contamination.
Frozen & Distributed
Once tested and approved, the pasteurized breast milk will be frozen in the bottles. The frozen bottles are then dropped off or shipped on dry ice to hospitals. You can also have it delivered right to your home!
Have you considered donating?
What about you–have you considered donating your breast milk? If you have extra milk, I encourage you to look into donating to a milk bank!
Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!