Donating Breast Milk – A Mama’s Gift to Mamas and Babies

One day at work while cleaning my breast pump parts after a pumping session my friend asked me what I thought about donating breast milk. I sighed and said, “It’s great if you have enough to donate.” What I was saying in my head was different though, “Gross! Someone is willing to take or buy breast milk, from you, a random person they have never met, don’t know what you eat, if you drink, do drugs, if you clean your pump parts, how you store your milk?! Heck no!”

Then another pumping mom, who is also a relative, asked me the same thing and I gave her an abbreviated version of the above thoughts. She tended to agree at that point. I asked her if she looked into it after she was done breastfeeding and she didn’t end up donating. I would have been able to donate because I had plenty of milk this time with my second baby. My little boy, C, drank a whole bottle less than my daughter, M, growing from birth to weaning so I had plenty of milk in my freezer.

I told my friends I had planned to use up my freezer milk instead of switching him to cow’s milk. I did, and I am very happy about my decision. However, I have a slight pang of guilt for not donating after my freezer stash lasted C to 13 months.

The same mama friend who pumped at work left some brochures from the local Mother’s Milk Bank and I picked one up to read. Little did I know there is a huge process into donating through a milk bank. You can read more about milk banking on Human Milk Banking Association of North America’s (HMBANA) website. As you know, I thought some random person answered your Craigslist add and you swapped milk for money one day. Sounded totally sketchy!

Although I am proud of using my freezer stash past weaning, I’m going to give you the low-down on Mother’s Milk Bank donations and why you should consider donating breast milk. Here are some direct quotes from the local Mother’s Milk Bank as to why you should donate. I couldn’t say it better myself. I started tearing up reading it and more pangs of guilt…

“A mother’s milk overflows with nutrients essential for newborns, but complications prevent some mothers from providing this precious nourishment. Too often, the smallest and sickest babies are the ones who don’t get the nutrition that would nurse them to strength the fastest – human milk.”

“As a breastfeeding mother, you are able to give tremendous support to your baby’s health. At [local Mothers’ Milk Bank name], we provide a way for you to share that same care and nourishment to other newborns who desperately need the benefits breast milk offers.”

Here are a list of reasons why pediatricians prescribe breast milk:

  • Prematurity
  • Allergies
  • Feeding/formula intolerance
  • Post-operative nutrition
  • Infectious diseases
  • Mamas who cannot nurse their babies for medical reasons, but they want their baby to benefit from human milk
  • Adoptive parents who want human milk instead of formula for their baby
  • Low milk supply
  • Babies who are failing to thrive on formula
  • Babies and toddlers with life-threatening diseases or conditions
  • Children with failing immune systems or catastrophic diseases
  • Multiple birth babies, who challenge a mother’s milk supply
  • Adopted infants, whose moms believe in the value of breast milk but can’t produce their own

In order to become a donor, you have to go through an interview process that includes a questionnaire and possibly other steps, which may vary on the individual milk bank. Once you’re an official donor, you can deliver your milk supply directly to the milk bank, a designated milk depot, or even ship the donated milk. Some will even pay to have your frozen milk shipped to them.

Then, it will be thoroughly screened and pasteurized. Once I found out the steps it takes to become a donor and that the milk is pasteurized the “yuck” factor disappeared for me. For the most part, my milk donation misconceptions were erased and I’m now comfortable with the idea.

One mama’s reality, not everyone’s!

Here is the process HNBANA uses to process human milk:

1) Scrubbing- Each pasteurization team member thoroughly scrubs his or her hands with antimicrobial soap before putting on gloves. Clean hands! Check!

2) Pouring- Human milk from a donor mama is carefully transferred from its original storage container to glass flasks. Those plastic storage bags wouldn’t be feasible for pasteurization.

3) Mixing and Pooling-Each Pool (which usually includes human milk from 3 to 5 donor mothers) is thoroughly mixed to ensure an even distribution of human milk components. This makes sense to me because I know my breast milk components are not identical to the next mama and the sick or small baby who needs the milk the most would receive more benefits from a meal of well-rounded milk that contains as many components as possible.

4) Filling Bottles- Four or eight ounce bottles are filled with human milk prior to pasteurization.

5) Pasteurizing using the Holder Method- The human milk is gently heated using the Holder Method of pasteurization. Pasteurization eliminates harmful bacteria while retaining the majority of human milk’s beneficial components. I am very glad HNBANA does this.

6) Lab Testing- Human milk samples are taken during the pasteurization process and cultured to check for bacterial growth. Any contaminated human milk is discarded. 

7) Pasteurized Donor Human Milk- The Pasteurized Donor Human milk (PDHM) is now ready for freezing and storage. It can be dispensed after samples are cultured and show no bacteria growth. PDHM is shipped frozen overnight to hospitals and individual recipients at home.

In addition to the pasteurization process, here are some facts on breast milk donation:

Milk donors aren’t paid. Donors are committed to donate 150 ounces per donation. For example, if you are a pumping mama who has weaned your baby and you average three ounces per pumping session, pumping three times per day it will take you about 17 days to reach the minimum donation amount. (3 ounces per pumping session x 3 pumping sessions per day= 9 ounces per day) (150 oz/ 9 = 16.66)

If you are out-of-state or far from an HNBANA, the milk bank will send insulated boxes for you to send them your milk. Finally, pasteurization destroys a small percentage of nutritional and immunological properties, but pasteurized milk retains many of its most beneficial qualities. It contains many special properties that cannot be duplicated by commercial milk formulas. I think this is a small price to pay for the huge benefits the baby, and overall the family will receive from donated breast milk.

Have you donated milk before? Comment below on how you went about donating.

6 Responses to Donating Breast Milk – A Mama’s Gift to Mamas and Babies

  1. My son was 6 weeks premature and it took me 2 weeks to get my milk in. While he was in the NICU he received donated milk for a whole week before we reached our limit. It was comforting knowing he could get breast milk when my body wasn’t ready to give it to him.we are very appreciative of this who donate.

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