It may sound strange to consider donating your own breast milk, but doing so could be lifesaving to a preemie in the NICU. Alternatively, you could give a mom unable to provide breast milk to her own child the peace of mind she needs. Over the last few years, the process of donating breast milk has become streamlined and there are milk banks nationwide to assist with the process.
Before you get started with donating breast milk, here are a few things you should know.
WHO USES DONATED BREAST MILK?
Breast milk is indeed best for babies born preterm. Unfortunately, moms who deliver their babies early may experience significant delays in their milk coming in. These moms and babies often rely on donated breast milk.
But that’s not the only reason why a baby may need donated breast milk. Here are a few others:
- Adoption or foster babies
- Low breast milk supply
- Baby’s inability to latch
- Supplement until a mother’s milk comes in
- A mother’s pre-existing health issues or inability to produce milk due to a double mastectomy or previous breast surgery
WHO DONATES BREAST MILK?
While some mothers struggle to create enough breast milk, there are others who have an excess supply. If your freezer is full with frozen breast milk or you are weaning your baby and you no longer need your stash, consider donating that breast milk.
To protect everyone involved, there are requirements that milk banks have in place in order to accept milk donations. Often, the donor:
- Must be in good general health
- Be willing to undergo a blood test - usually at the expense of the organization being donated to
- Should not be regularly using medication or herbal supplements (with a few exceptions)
- Should be nursing an infant who is less than one year of age (bereaved or surrogate mothers are also eligible to donate)
- Must be able to arrange for transportation of your milk to a drop-off site, or in some cases to ship your milk
Just like any mother who is on the breastfeeding and pumping journey, we urge you to take care of yourself! Drink plenty of water, maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine, empty each breast during the pumping sessions to avoid clogged ducts, sleep well and consume additional calories to keep up with the amount you are burning.
HOW DOES THE PROCESS WORK
Breast milk donation banks are spread throughout the United States. Some require local drop off, while others work with breast milk donors to pump, bag, freeze and ship breast milk.
Typically, upon filling out and submitting an initial application, the breast milk donation bank may require providing a complete medical history, list of prescribed medications and dietary habit profile, as well as a blood test. This blood test may screen for HIV, Hepatitis C and B, syphilis, etc.
You may also be required to provide a cheek swab to create a DNA identity profile. The DNA in the breast milk will be matched to your DNA profile, ensuring that the milk is only from approved milk donors.
As a breast milk donor, you will be following the same cleanliness standards that you were or are for your own baby. Feel free to brush up on those tips here: Breast Milk Storage 101.
Depending on the milk donation organization, you may donate newly expressed milk or previously collected frozen milk no more than 10 months from the date of expression. If the milk bank has stringent collection guidelines and your collection routine did not meet these guidelines, you will need to collect new breast milk.
Some donation banks require a specific amount of milk to be donated each time, so you may need to really stock up on your supply until the specific amount is met.
Once ready to ship, you will likely be provided with shipping materials and labels, at no cost to you.
WHO SHOULD NOT DONATE BREAST MILK
Here are a few conditions or situations that would possibly prevent a woman from donating her breast milk:
- Use of herbal supplements
- Those who cannot donate blood.
- Regularly taking medications such as thyroid replacement hormones, insulin, iron, progestin-only birth control.
- Smoking or using a nicotine patch or gum or regularly consuming alcohol.
- Received a blood transfusion or an organ/tissue transplant in the last 12 months.
- Have a chronic health condition such as multiple sclerosis.
- Consumes a high amount of caffeine daily.
THE RIGHT BREAST PUMP
Picking a good breast pump is key if you are planning to pump extra milk for donation. At 1 Natural Way, we work with your primary care physician and insurance plan to secure a breast pump and accessories at no cost to you. See if you qualify!
Use the location finder available at Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) to find the nearest breast milk donation bank to you. HMBANA is a nonprofit milk bank that accepts donated breast milk, and gives the milk only to babies who have a prescription from their doctor. HMBANA member milk banks collect breast milk from mothers that is screened, pasteurized, tested and finally distributed to premature or medically fragile infants in either hospitals or homes. HMBANA can also help locate banks if you are interested in receiving donations.