To Donate or Not to Donate Breastmilk; Food for Thought
The freezer is getting mighty full with labeled milk bags. I estimate about 75% of the real estate in our freezer is taken up by breast milk and the rest for frozen food and icepacks. Something is going to have to leave the freezer… Although I realize we eat the food and rarely thaw the breast milk, I can’t help but cringe at the idea of throwing it out or letting it spoil. It is a symbol of months of lost sleep to support a milk supply, a “what if” bank, and frankly seems depressingly wasteful knowing how hard many mamas work to produce the liquid gold. But why then, does fear strike my heart every time I think about donating it? What if my baby does end up needing it? To be clear, my son is turning 6 months old this week. So the prime window for freezer milk (not deep freezer) will be closing out on the early dated bags. And although we have worked out a system in which we rarely, if ever, use the frozen milk; it seems so hard to part with. My mind zig zags down all the rabbit holes. The odds of getting into a plane crash (especially since we haven’t traveled in years) are low. And I would presume the odds of a serious car crash, while scary, are less than the odds of this milk expiring. Not to mention, in the event he needed to switch straight to freezer milk the length of time it would last him if something terrible really did happen: about 12 days. This was a surprising calculation given how much visual space it takes up. Not quite long enough to meet my personal goals for breast milk feeding. The truth of the matter is that much of this milk is likely to go to waste and there are so many children who could benefit. So I’ve asked myself: how many ounces do I need in the freezer to feel comfortable if I had to be away, and what can I let go of to serve some good. We were faced with this question recently when my partner dealt with a stomach bug. No amount of disinfecting could scrub the paranoia away that myself or the baby might get sick. How was I supposed to nurse and be glued to restroom? Or worse, what if the baby and I both got sick! Luckily, neither of us became ill. However, it did force the mental exercise of determining how many days of breast milk I would want to have on backup for particular situations. After considering the angles and listening to my gut when I mentally tried on different numbers I came to my personal conclusion of how much milk to keep and how much to donate. There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but something each mama with a freezer full of milk can ask herself. How much is necessary to keep for her baby and her circumstances to feel secure; and how much, if any, could be donated to a fellow mama and baby in need.
Milk donation, however, is not recommended if it impacts or reduces the amount of breast milk provided for a mother’s own child.
Some milk banks and community sharing options offer compensation, but be sure to read the details and engage only in exchanges you feel comfortable with that are vetted (and not CID-creeps in disguise).
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a few of the resources available:
HMBANA (The Human Milk Banking Association of North America) offers accreditation to nonprofit milk banks in North America. They focus their efforts on clinical and evidence-based practices and the use of extra breastmilk for fragile infants. Their website provides easy to look up locations that are accredited in your area.
Tiny Treasures Milk Bank (a Prolacta company) offers compensation for breastmilk that passes their qualification standards. Prolacta is a for-profit company that completes research and makes human milk-based nutritional products that is available for sale to hospitals for critically ill and premature infants.
Eats On Feets is a community based resource for milk sharing that provides connection of those donating with those in need.
Human Milk 4 Human Babies (HM4HB) is a community connection platform for local families who have chosen to share breastmilk (see link below for full mission).
Some mothers may also choose to donate to a known friend or family member in need.
Should you find yourself with extra liquid gold in your freezer, I hope this gives you food for thought and that you continue to Baby Boldly. :)
Guest blog post written by: Barbara Nelson, M.A. CCC-SLP, CLC, CBS
Barbara is a speech-language pathologist. Her career predominately has focused on pediatric hospital based evaluation and treatment of infants and children with feeding disorders. This career choice makes sense, because for her, food is one of the best simple pleasures, medicine, and promoter of social connectivity available. She believes that feeding a child is more than just calories and that those connected moments stay with us forever. She strives to provide research and facts regarding the gold standard, but never chooses for a family because the parents always know their child best (even on day one).