It’s officially the holiday season! Now we start to turn our thoughts to more charitable giving. Happy Giving Tuesday! There are a lot of great charities out there doing great work to help those in need this holiday season, but we’d like to ask you to consider a very special one this year. We’re dreaming of a white Christmas for Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast. While we might not have control over the weather this year, together we can make a difference for moms and babies in need of donated human breast milk.
Last week we sat down with Deborah Youngblood, Executive Director of Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast in Newton, Massachusetts. Deborah shared about the milk donation process, the growing need for donor milk, and information on who can donate and how! Donor milk is prioritized for medically fragile babies who need it the most, typically babies in hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs). It is also available to families who need milk at home for their sweet little bundles when supply allows and their doctors agree it is necessary.
Demand VS Donors
When we spoke, Deborah compassionately highlighted the stories of mothers whose babies were born in need of a bit more love and care. These NICU babies, often born early, and with complications, might not be able to receive breast milk from their mothers initially. If a baby is born early, a mother’s milk might not have come in yet, or mom might be in need of medical care and physically separated from her baby. The situations range but the results are the same: babies who receive donor milk benefit greatly. And for some babies, human milk is the only thing they can safely digest so donor milk is truly lifesaving.
We asked about donors and why milk banks face a unique challenge in regards to milk donations. Mother’s produce milk for a period of time. When you think of donation in terms of a blood bank, one donor might be able to donate for years, while a breast milk donor typically has only months. Donors also often have their own babies whose needs must be met before a mother can donate. So there are fewer donor superheroes to rely on when it comes to milk donation.
What About Formula?
While healthy full term babies can receive formula, low birth weight premature babies often cannot. They run the risk of developing permanently debilitating or life threatening infections if anything other than human milk is introduced in those early days. Milk donation is more than a feel good gift, it can change the course of tiny lives for the better. And while formula is a choice many families make, the health benefits of human milk make some parents deeply committed to finding ways for their babies to receive, even in the face of challenges.
Challenges for Milk Banks
Reaching Potential Donors in Time
One of the biggest hurdles to milk donation is information. Simply knowing about the need for donor milk is one of the biggest challenges that milk banks like Mothers’ Milk Bank North East face.
If a mother knows about the potential for donation, a milk bank can help walk her through the process. However, it’s reaching moms when they are breastfeeding that is the biggest challenge.
Deborah informed us that a mother who receives breast milk at the beginning of her baby’s journey will often try to pay it forward by donating her own milk after it comes in, if she has enough excess milk supply. But the need to spread the word about milk donation is high. We need a lot more caring moms to join our village.
Supply and Demand
Right now, there are more babies in need than donor milk. If we can inform more breastfeeding moms about the need for donor milk, the process for donating milk, and where they can donate together we can help these medically fragile babies. Every drop counts and has the potential to make a world of difference for a developing baby.
Donor Milk Can Be Expensive
Insurance doesn’t always cover the cost of donor milk for families who need it. Many families are left to pay out of pocket. The milk bank uses financial donations to help subsidize donor milk for families who have both a medical and a financial need.
Donations to milk banks help cover the cost of breast milk so that families with babies in need of complex medical care can receive safe, healthy, donated breast milk. Click this link to read more about the impact of donations and to make your impact today.
Many Benefits of Donor Milk
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who receive breastmilk experience improved neuro-developmental outcomes. They have decreased risk of many medical conditions including SIDS, asthma, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, leukemia, and childhood obesity. For preterm babies, donor milk is especially protective against a life-threatening condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), reducing the risk by 79%.
In addition to these benefits, donor milk also helps to serve as a bridge to breastfeeding for parents who have the goal of breastfeeding but mom’s milk supply has not yet fully come in. Donor milk is given for a short period of time, often starting in the hospital, and then for a few weeks at home while mom works to build up her own supply. Receiving donor milk instead of formula during this critical period has been shown to improve overall breastfeeding success rates.Breastfeeding also contributes to maternal health benefits including decreased risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension.
The Milk Donation Process: From Expression to Donation
First, a mother who intends to donate must go through a simple health screening process. This process involves filling out a form, providing their medical history via a phone call, and taking a blood test. According to Deborah, this process may take 2-3 weeks. During this time a mother can still express milk and freeze it for donation. After a mother is approved for donation, we make it easy to ship that milk directly to us.
Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast has also established multiple milk depots or donation collection locations throughout the entire Northeast region, serving 11 states and well over 100 hospitals. If you are looking for a milk bank in another part of the country, you can find the full list of accredited non-profit milk banks here. So donor moms can either drop off at a convenient location or we can help them get their packages picked up for shipment from their home.
Once the milk is received, it is processed in the milk bank’s lab. Donor milk is thawed and then mixed together with milk from other donor moms which promotes optimal nutrition, before being pasteurized. After pasteurization it’s tested again, bottled and labeled, and then is stored frozen until it’s sent to a baby in need. The milk bank carefully logs, and mixes breast milk by the date it was expressed (making this very important for donors to note). It is viable for up to one year from the date it was expressed.
How Can You Help?
If you are a breastfeeding mother with more than your baby needs, we ask that you please consider donating to your local milk bank. Not everyone is currently lactating or has more than they need (in fact, as much as it might be glorified on social media, few mothers have an oversupply of milk). However, if you are in the position of producing even more milk than what your baby needs, we humbly ask that you consider donating to Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, or your local milk bank. You can also share this information on your parenting blogs, send it to your friends, spread the word anyway you can think of. We need milk donation to become as widely known as blood donation so that those who could donate, will know about the option.
Finally, Milk Bank’s can’t run on milk alone. So if you are looking for a great nonprofit with a mission to care for medically fragile babies and ensure that they can grow and thrive, look no further. Please consider donating to Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast Milk Bank today donate directly by following this link.