I’ve never had a comfortable relationship with the breast pump. I fell victim to a number of booby traps with my first son and wound up unable to express any milk for him while I was at work, even though he nursed directly from the tap until he was 27 months old. Along the way, a few friends gave me bags of expressed human milk, which felt like such an amazing gift. My son primarily drank formula while I was at work, but I felt so happy to feed him these baggies of liquid gold when the opportunity arose.
Fast forward five years, and I have milk in abundance. So much milk, it seeps from my opposite breast when I have a letdown. I have a baby who is gaining 2 ounces a day, fattening up into 3 month clothing by the time he was 5 weeks old. We’re up to size 2 diapers, which is nuts because my 2 year old is only in size 4 diapers.
For the first time, I have milk to spare! I immediately thought of the developing Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank in my city, but they are not yet set up or accepting milk donation. The next closest milk bank is in Columbus, Ohio. I choose to give to a milk bank because I know the demand for human milk far exceeds the incoming supply to meet the needs of just the sickest premature babies. Studies have shown that human milk can dramatically improve these babies’ survival rates.
I gave the milk bank a call one day to learn about the qualifications and process to become a milk donor. There was a brief pre-screening, where they asked if I take medication or have gotten a blood transfusion or tattoo or acupuncture in the past 12 months. Then, they emailed me some forms to complete (one involves getting the pediatrician to verify that my tank of a baby is gaining well, etc.) and will send along a kit for me to get a blood draw. The milk bank will analyze the blood and test it for a number of diseases, including HIV.
They are sending along milk collection containers because their minimum donation is 200 ounces. It sounds staggering to me. 200 ounces! For a woman who was never able to pump before, just would not let down for the darn pump despite many suggestions from an IBCLC–for me to think about gathering 200 spare ounces of milk is amazing. And yet, each time I sit down to pump, I’m getting at least 2.5 ounces. That means in about 3 months, I’ll have my stash all ready to go.
We only have a combination fridge/freezer, so I’ve got 90 days to gather the milk unless I call upon a neighbor with a deep freeze to store my stash. Then, I would get 6 months.
I’m excited about the idea of using my milk to help the youngest, most fragile babies get their best chance at the start of life.
I know that the very conditions that cause premature infants can lead to challenges for their mothers expressing milk for these wee babies.
I love thinking about another mother like me getting the peace of mind knowing her baby is receiving the very best food.
I’m also trying to be realistic about my donation efforts. I have 3 kids at home now and I don’t get a ton of time to sit and pump. If it’s looking like I can’t gather 200 ounces in time, my plan is to switch to an informal milk share arrangement. That way, another local mom can use my milk to supplement her own and I still know a baby somewhere is getting food that’s perfectly designed for him or her.
I never imagined that I would be in the position to share milk with another family. I’m so excited to be doing something so amazing. Breastfeeding has become such an important part of my identity. Milk sharing feels like the right thing to do. Wish me luck as I work toward the 200 ounce mark!
World Milksharing Week takes place September 24 through 30. We’re pairing up with Snugabell, maker of the PumpEase hands-free pumping bra, to share my personal story about milk sharing. Hop on over to their blog to read some others and enter a giveaway for a PumpEase prize pack! Want to save on PumpEase? Enter the code GIVEMILK at checkout to save 15% on PumpEase from September 24 through 30.