Thursday, January 14, 2010

Donating Breast Milk

So, this will be a non-crafty post - but I hope you'll stick around and read it because it's about some giving back I did a few years ago that was really important to me!

My middle child (who is now 7) was born in September. When she was born I had just one semester of school left. That last semester was my student teaching - essentially it was like working a full time job. I started that semester in January - my daughter was 4 months old.

At the time we had our 3 year old too, dh was working, we had a house, I was in school full time and the girls were in daycare full time too. All that means money was super tight. And I felt breastfeeding was important. Some suggested nursing part time and using formula for when she was with her sitter. Both because of how I felt and financial issues, I knew going in, I'd have to pump breast milk.

A typical day looked like this: I woke up, pumped, got myself ready. Woke up 3 year old, got her eating breakfast, woke up baby - nursed her, dressed both girls, took them to sitter, pumped, went to school. I had originally planned on pumping during the student's lunch time, but alas that never worked. So after school, I would pump while grading papers, then go pick the kids up, come home - grade, lessons plans, sometimes cook dinner (often hubs did that), nurse on demand, put everyone to bed, work and pump, and go to sleep. Yes, I pump lots. Pretty soon my freezer was full of pumped breast milk. We quickly learned my daughter was doing what I called reverse nursing - wherein she wouldn't eat much during her time at the sitters (almost like what her typical nights had been) but nurse often and lots when she was home with me. At the time, the sitter was giving her about 2 bottles a day. I was able to cut out the last pumping at night, but didn't want to stop pumping during the day because I was nervous going 8+ hours without pumping would affect my overall supply.

I mentioned this problem on a message board I was part of at the time. And someone suggested I look into donating breast milk. I admit, I didn't even know breast milk banks even existed. But once I heard about it and read about it, I just knew I HAD to do it! I mentioned the idea to my husband and he was SO supportive. So I started calling around. Despite the need for milk, most banks couldn't accept my milk. There were only 5 actively taking donations and the first 4 I called couldn't accept shipped milk - and were too far for me to hand deliver it to. Finally, the Iowa milk bank said they'd take it from me, they could take it frozen, and I could ship it in since I was close enough.

They sent me containers. They also sent me some empty vials and a LOT of paperwork. I needed to send them in essentially my entire health history and lots of blood. I also had to get my pediatrician and my doctor to sign paperwork saying that a) my daughter was healthy and wouldn't suffer if I donated milk and that I was healthy (and also not taking any medication). I had a hard time getting someone to draw my blood though. Finally my midwife stepped in and helped me out. Except when I went to have my blood drawn - they thought they had to draw my milk and imagine my surprise when the women walked in and said "I've never done this before but I'll do my best. Please take your shirt off."

Anyway, I had all the paperwork done, the blood drawn. I agreed to several things (including exactly how I would wash and store all breast pump parts, how I would wash my breasts and how often, and rules about medicine - i.e. if I had to take tylenol/advil/etc, I could not pump for them for an entire 24 hours).

I started feeding my daughter from the stash I had in the freezer already and began to exclusively pump for the milk bank. She was about 6 months old at the time - and I had until she turned 1 to get all that I could - but the most they could take was 400 ounces. (I am not sure why the age mattered, but the rules/regulations required that). The other deadline was milk couldn't be used after 6months, so that was always on my mind too.

I pumped like mad. Husband was SO supportive. We didn't really tell friends or family though. We weren't sure they would be so supportive and decided we wouldn't even open ourselves up to strange looks/weird comments/etc. Maybe they would have been supportive, but I had lots of support from my on-line friends and that with my husband was beyond enough for me!

It was summer -4-5 months later when I knew I was pretty close to 400 ounces (that was the most the cooler could hold). I called them up - and they sent me a cooler. I called the overnight service to schedule the pick-up. My job was to fill it up at the last possible second, stuffing in newspaper to insulate it (not ice), taped up the cooler and sent it off with the delivery guy.

It was pretty emotional. I was sending a piece of myself off in that cooler. Lots of hours of pumping (or at least what felt like lots of hours). I cried. As silly as that sounds, I did. I thought about how that milk might go to feed another baby and help another family - who for whatever reasons needed breast milk for their baby and couldn't provide it themselves. I thought about how when so many around me thought breastfeeding your own baby was gross, disgusting, something only to be done behind closed doors where no one would have to actually see it there were people out there who so firmly believed in it that they would use my milk to feed their babies. I also thought about how my breast milk might be used in some studies (I did sign a waiver saying if they couldn't get the milk to a baby in time, I would allow them to use it for research purposes). And that even if it didn't go to a baby, it might help scientists understand breast milk and how wonderful it is even more!

A few weeks later I received a card in the mail from the milk bank - a lovely card thanking me for all I had sent (it ended up being 390-some ounces!) and just a huge thank you for all I had done. I didn't do it for the thanks. Trust me - there were a lot of hurdles to cross (including the pediatrician who thought milk banks were silly and although he signed my paperwork, he did so begrudgingly). It was hard to find someone to draw my blood. Without doctor's orders it seemed no one wanted to touch me. Although my midwife was so supportive and glad I was doing it, so when I ran into that brick wall, I called her and she wrote me the orders and set up my appointment! Once I had the idea to donate, it never occurred to me not to do it - even when it seemed hard. And I'm so thankful I did it. And I would do it again in a heartbeat!

I hear there are shortages at milk banks again (most notably Colorado). So if you are a nursing mom, I really encourage you to look into doing this. And if you know a nursing mom, pass this information along to her.

Some links:
Denver Mother's Milk Bank
National Milk Bank
Banking on Breastmilk article
List of Breastmilk Banks

Note: I don't believe Iowa can take shipped milk anymore.


  1. Good for you, Brandie!! :) Thanks for spreading the word about milk banks.

    I'm writing about the shortage at the Colorado milk bank right now and they WILL take shipped milk. The milk bank ships supplies and a box with dry ice to mail the milk.

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