Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Donating Breast Milk

This keeps coming up so I feel like I need to put what I know (which is very little) out into the public sphere. I have seen an uptick of Charlottesville interest in both donating extra breast milk and in using donor milk.

To be very clear, I do not know enough about using donor milk to give much information about this practice. But, because I do believe human milk is a superior infant food to formula, I think families need to take this option seriously and do their research on what is best for their situation. I wanted to share the places I have heard of to give interested families a smaller headache when approaching this option.

First are the Milk Banks. Start at the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Second is MilkShare. They have a Yahoo Group to help families connect to one another.

Third is this story about Lynn Page who donated 56 gallons (!!!) of breast milk. It was this article that just ran in Oprah Magazine that made me realize how past time it is for this option to be discussed more openly. Not discussed only by families, but taken seriously by insurance companies and health care providers (see the follow up articles, same link).

The fourth thing is to simply call your local lactation consultants, hospital-based or not and ask them what they know. Be ready for the spectrum of answers but chances are, they will be helpful.

And the more I looked up web addresses, the more information I came across. If you have a great tip for a mother out there, go ahead and post it here as well as to whatever site for which you probably also should post a testimonial!

I can't put up enough disclaimers: do your research and take responsibility for what ever choice you make for your family. I am not in a comfort zone as I discuss this, partly because much of the activism I do with breastfeeding has absolutely nothing to do with this topic. It is hard enough to support women trying to breastfeed their own children in our culture, it is another thing to monitor the practices of women who choose to donate or use donated milk. But if you, dear reader, are searching in the night for resources that have been helpful to other people, I wanted you to know that you are not alone in your efforts. Many many families choose this option. Connect with them and hear their stories. They ARE out there.


publichealthdoula said...

I think this link is an excellent start to understanding the difference between for-profit and non-profit milk banks (people can also read back in her archives and learn more about the whole issue). I think the ultimate answer is to do one's own research on the issue and decide where to donate. Based on what I've learned recently from some people who have worked a long time in milk banking, I would feel very uncomfortable donating milk to a for-profit bank (and to note, there are many nice-sounding "milk banks" that are funneling all their donations to Prolacta and being paid for that).

Thanks for bringing this up so that more women can get information on donation! And thank you for linking to that beautiful story...

Lys said...

I recently donated milk to a family in town and I am so happy with the experience. While my four month old can sleep through the night, my boobs simply can't go that long, meaning I need to pump every night before I go to bed. It's a ritual I used to dread, being tired at the end of the day and not wanting to break out the breast pump for the fourth time when I knew I was never tapping into my freezer full of milk.

Now that I know the milk is going to be used by a child that needs it, I happily head up to the office each evening to empty my breasts (not to mention I finally have space in my freezer again). I'll continue to donate as long as my surplus lasts.

kim wells said...

I donated breast milk. I had twins, and yet, I had a TON of extra. The only problem, for me, was that some women have an enzyme in their milk that makes the milk, when frozen, taste kind of sour. So babies don't like it. It was perfectly good fresh, but once it had been frozen, all they could do was use it to calibrate their machines. Which was useful, because then they didn't have to use other stuff that didn't have that tricky enzyme!!
It can be difficult to manage. I had a ton of frozen milk in bags (the Lansinoh were the best) had to drive to a donor site, and manage twin four month olds at the same time!! It was hard but worthwhile!

People used to do essentially this all the time-- wet nurses were women who fed other people's babies, often from their own surplus. It's only since the 50s and the "industrial military + medical complex" need to "medicalize" all of our bodily functions IN ORDER TO MAKE MONEY OFF OF THEM that it's been considered "weird". (Think of the hoo haa when Salma Hayak breast fed the African baby a month or so ago).

Anyway. Anyone intersted and capable should consider it. I ended up having to trash a bunch of the milk that my babies wouldn't eat (because of that dratted sour taste) anyway, and THAT, my friends, hurt a whole lot. :)

helenastrick said...

I wasn't able to breastfeed my daughter due to a hormone imbalance. Although I formula-fed her, I'm really happy that there are milk banks for those babies who really need it. My daughter thrived on formula and I felt it was more responsible for me to feed my relatively easy, healthy, baby formula and reserve donated breastmilk for other babies who needed it more than her. If I ever end up having a preemie or a baby who really needs breastmilk for some reason, I would probably have to use donated milk and I'm so grateful that it's an option!

Cate said...

Milk sharing is an excellent option for many families, for whom Milk Banks are way too expensive. (The milk costs about $3 an ounces. That's simply cost-prohibitive for many, though luckily, some insurance companies are beginning to cover it.) I've only donated once (abt 150 ounces), and that was local enough for the woman to come pick it up. I was actually quite proud of her; the BM was going to her 9 month old.
MilkShare is an inspiration. Really, there are generous mamas who give and give and expect nothing in return for this liquid gold.
Yes, we certainly need to be careful sharing bodily fluids, especially to the lil ones. But these mamas are open about sharing their medical records and even detail their diets for the recipients. I wrote a blog not to long ago for Eco Child's Play. There, I posed this question:
"MilkShare is then about some hot commodities: trust, sharing, generosity. It’s about need and asking for help.
Even if you’re not giving up your own liquid gold, those are some things we all need nowadays, eh?"

Thanks for bringing this to the local scene!