Hard to believe it happens, but there are times when you may find that you have more breast milk than your baby needs. Instead of pouring it down the drain, your breast milk can help nourish fragile babies in your community and across the country. In fact, it could help save tiny, precious lives.
Throughout the world, there are nonprofit milk banks whose mission is to provide safe, pasteurized breast milk for infants that need it most: premature babies and other medically fragile infants. In the United States, this accounts for 10% of babies born every year.
HOW TO FIND A MILK BANK
There are currently 31 milk banks in 25 states and three Canadian provinces registered with The Human Milk Banking Association (HMBANA). There may be others, however, it is recommended to stick with the banks registered with HMBANA because they adhere to a strict pasteurization and testing process and donate all of their milk to babies in need.
HOW TO DONATE
The donation process is easy, free and pandemic-friendly.
- Find the milk bank closest to you using the HMBANA website
- Fill out the screening information forms
- If you pass the initial screening, they will send you to get blood work (testing for, among other things, HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Syphilis)
Once you pass all the criteria, the milk bank will arrange to either pick up your donation or to have it shipped to them.
Once donor milk is received, it is batched with milk from three to five other donors and placed into glass containers for pasteurization—a process of heating a liquid to kill pathogenic bacteria in order to make it safe to drink. Once it’s pasteurized, your milk goes through a round of testing to make absolutely sure that it is bacteria free. Then it’s frozen and packaged up to be shipped to hospitals and outpatient families across the country.
WHY IS DONOR MILK SO IMPORTANT
Mother’s milk is the first step you can take to help keep your baby healthy. This is even more true when it comes to babies in distress. The majority of donated milk is shipped to hospitals, where it is provided to premature and sick infants.
Oftentimes, the mothers of these fragile babies are not able to provide milk due to illness, medications they are taking, their milk not coming in or they live too far from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
The healing power of donor milk helps these fragile infants fight off infections by providing natural antibodies. Also, since breast milk is more easily digested than formula, providing premature babies with breast milk helps reduce the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) — the leading cause of death among premature babies. NEC is when intestinal tissue dies and can lead to a hole in the intestine. Bacteria can then leak through that hole causing serious abdominal infections and death.
Bottom line: if you find yourself with extra breast milk — no matter how little or much — don’t let it go to waste. See if you can be a donor and help save the life of a baby.
About the Author: Melissa Harris
Melissa Harris is a single mother of two children living in Oakland, California, where she was raised. She was on the fast track to being a partner in a mid-size ad agency when she gave birth to her second child, Sam, and the trajectory of her life changed.