Milk Donation: “Wait, you donate what?”

Our "Milk Freezer"
Our “Milk Freezer”

After my son was born, like many moms, I worked hard to provide breast milk for him while he was at daycare. This entailed expressing breast milk by pumping. You can read my story about exclusively pumping breast milk here. My hubby and I had a streamlined system for which milk went into the fridge, and which milk went into the freezer of our refrigerator. We used a simple system of rotating frozen milk (always using the oldest milk first).

After a while, we tired of limiting our frozen food choices at the grocery store, due to the milk overtaking our freezer. We invested in a deep freezer and began storing frozen milk in what would become known as the “milk freezer”. Just as I was beginning to feel confident that I could provide enough milk for my son at daycare, he was diagnosed with a milk allergy. I was devastated. Although I began eating a dairy free diet so that I could continue providing milk for him, all the milk that I saved for him could not be used. Or could it?

As my lactation consultant helped me with eliminating dairy (including caisin, and whey), so that my baby could continue to drink my milk, she mentioned that I might be able to donate my milk to a human milk bank or other source.

There are several human milk banks throughout the country. Each bank has strict guidelines that donors must adhere to. Unfortunately, because I was taking prescription medication at the time, I was not eligible to donate to these milk banks. However, there are less formal milk donation networks available with less stringent guidelines. I posted the availability of my milk as well as the medication (which was approved for breastfeeding by the FDA) I was taking. I received many responses from moms, clamoring to provide milk for their babies.

I donated thousands of ounces of breast milk to two deserving families. One was to a family in my hometown who had adopted a 4-month-old baby. Since it is only a 2-hour drive from Richmond, I packed the milk in a cooler and met the mom in a shopping mall parking lot. After this initial donation, I realized that I could probably help another family, now with dairy-free milk, which is more challenging to find. (Because I exclusively pumped, I followed a structured regimen for pumping to ensure I had an adequate supply).

My second batch of milk went to another family that lived a few states away. They had an older baby who was a year and a half with significant medical issues. I packed the milk up according to guidelines in a Styrofoam cooler and express mailed it, then hoped for the best. The child’s mother  e-mailed me right away, letting me know that the milk had arrived and confirmed that it was still frozen.

She thanked me at every opportunity, sending me heartfelt cards telling me about her growing child and major developmental milestones. She told me that she felt strongly that the milk that I provided for her child was a factor in her child’s growth.

If my son had not been diagnosed with his milk allergy (and years later, he is still allergic to cow’s milk), I am not sure if I ever would have known about milk donation. However, donating my milk was one of the best decisions I ever made because I could help a family (actually, 2 families!) who did not have the opportunity to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. I also think I benefited psychologically from helping others, since I had such a difficult breastfeeding journey. And hey, I have been a blood donor, and I am on the bone marrow registry – so why not milk donation? Is milk donation the right choice for you – as either a donor or a recipient?

Click here to learn more about human milk banks, milk donation, and milk storage.

Click here to learn more about dairy and other food sensitivities and allergies with breastfeeding here.

Click here for resources on breastfeeding in general.

Click here for other stories about breastfeeding from Richmondmom.