Got breast milk to spare? Denver milk bank is in desperate need.

The freezers are nearly empty at a Denver milk bank, which is experiencing its lowest supply ever in the bank’s 25-year history. The Mother’s Milk Bank at Presbyterian St. Luke’s hospital is one of only 10 milk banks in the country that collects breast milk from mothers across the country and delivers it to sick and premature babies. The shortage has been due in part to a rough flu season and an increased need from hospitals and parents seeking breast milk.

If you are wondering in this day and age, with formula readily available, why milk banks are so important, there’s information in this Breastfeeding.com article, Banking on Breast milk. The majority of milk from the milk banks goes to babies who are sick or need milk because of medical conditions such as formula intolerance or feeding issues related to prematurity. Unlike formula, breast milk contains immunologic properties to help fight infection and illness.

Milk banks exist because many babies will not thrive without human milk. Infants with failure to thrive (FTT), formula intolerance, allergies and certain other medical conditions may require real human milk for health and even for survival.

A typical candidate for donor breast milk might be a formula-fed infant that exhibits prolonged episodes of inconsolable crying, ongoing vomiting and classic allergy signs such as purple or black circles under the eyes, pallor, skin inflammation, lethargy and frequent or bloody stools. Another typical candidate might be a premature infant whose mother cannot (or cannot yet) supply breast milk.

All donors to Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) member milk banks undergo a screening process that begins with a short phone interview. Donor mothers are women who are currently lactating and have surplus milk. Donor mothers must be:

  • In good general health
  • Willing to undergo a blood test (at the milk bank’s expense)
  • Not regularly using medication or herbal supplements (with the exception of progestin-only birth control pills or injections, Synthroid, insulin, pre-natal vitamins; for other exceptions, please contact a milk bank for more information)
  • Willing to donate at least 100 ounces of milk; some banks have a higher minimum

The Denver milk bank welcomes donors both local and out of state
For donating mothers who don’t live near Denver, the milk bank ships supplies and a box with dry ice to mail the milk. Mothers are not paid for donating. Also, the HMBANA milk banks will often loan pumps to donor moms if they don’t have one of their own.

I donated milk to the Denver milk bank when my son Julian was a baby and had previously donated to a local mom directly when Ava was a baby. I’ve been blessed with a plentiful supply and was happy to do what I could to help others. Although I wasn’t able to collect as much as I had hoped, it all adds up.

Brandie also pumped her milk for the Iowa milk bank. She describes the process she went through when she donated nearly 400 oz.(!!) to the milk bank in 2003. As she packed up the cooler to mail her milk in, she couldn’t help but get emotional.

I was sending a piece of myself off in that cooler. Lots of hours of pumping (or at least what felt like lots of hours). I cried. As silly as that sounds, I did. I thought about how that milk might go to feed another baby and help another family – who for whatever reasons needed breast milk for their baby and couldn’t provide it themselves. I thought about how when so many around me thought breastfeeding your own baby was gross, disgusting, something only to be done behind closed doors where no one would have to actually see it, there were people out there who so firmly believed in it that they would use my milk to feed their babies.

Jodi, Milk Donor Mama, and Cate Nelson have all been milk donors too.

Emily from Et Cetera recently found herself with a surplus of pumped milk. As her freezer stash grew, she began to get concerned that it would expire before it was consumed. That’s when she learned about breast milk banking. She’s signed up to be a donor and encourages others to as well. “Why let your extra breast milk go to waste? Share it with a baby who desperately needs it. And even if you can’t donate, you can get involved. The more people know about milk banks, the more babies will thrive.”

A doctor’s prescription is required to receive breast milk from a HMBANA milk bank.

Deanne Walker of Colorado Springs received donor milk from Mother’s Milk Bank at Presbyterian St. Luke’s hospital for her twin boys who were born 10 weeks premature. In addition to the babies being born early, Deanne had several infections which dramatically affected her milk supply. I spoke with Deanne via email where she pointed out the importance of breast milk for preemie babies.

When babies are born prematurely the mother’s milk is different – it’s called super preemie milk loaded with even more protein, antibodies and dense nutrition than regular breast milk. Preemies need the extra nutrition because their digestive tracts are not fully developed, they are so small and need to grow more rapidly, and also because they are so much more prone to infections in those early weeks. Formula just cannot deliver the nutrition and antibodies provided by nature.

Deanne is thankful for the donor milk her now thriving 3 1/2 year old sons received until her supply was established enough to provide full feedings for them, but wishes it was covered by her insurance like formula was. (Note: Medical insurance sometimes covers the cost of donor milk when there is a demonstrated medical need for the milk on the part of the infant.) She and her husband had to cash in their retirement account to pay for the milk. The cost of breast milk from the Denver milk bank is currently $3.50 per ounce (which covers the donor screening, processing of the milk, etc.), which adds up very quickly especially when feeding more than one baby.

Please see the information below if you have breast milk to spare and would like to help babies in need. Or if you are looking for a worthy place for your tax-deductible donation, please consider making a donation to a milk bank. The HMBANA milk banks are non-profit organizations and depend on community and private donations to keep the doors open.

Information on donating or receiving breast milk:

Edited on 1/26/10 to add:
This morning the United States Breastfeeding Committee released a statement and urgent call for human breast milk for premature infants in Haiti. The first shipment is getting ready to go out to the U.S. Navy ship Comfort. You can read the entire statement and find out how you can donate by reading Give Them Roots blog about it: URGENT: Milk Donations for Haiti Infants. Thank you!

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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14 thoughts on “Got breast milk to spare? Denver milk bank is in desperate need.

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  2. Thanks for this info!

    I actually have 300-400 ounces in my freezer right now. It turns out my 6-week-old is actually one of the very rare babies that cannot digest breastmilk, and has to have a special and very expensive formula. This has been pretty much devastating for me to deal with (I still tear up just writing this), but I pumped for about a month, hoping to find another diagnosis or some way to make nursing work. Now that it’s definitely out, I’m glad to know that there’s a place that wants it and can use it right away.

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  4. I wish I could donate! I have a good bit in the freezer, but I’m on daily meds for anxiety. I did a lot of private donation after I had my daughter and have done one or two private donations this time around too.

  5. I just dropped off 80oz. to my local milk bank in Sacramento, CA. It was a moment of mixed emotions for me, but so worth it.

  6. In case anyone else was wondering (as I was)…I called HMBANA today to find out if they were taking donations to ship to Haiti, and was informed that there is currently no way to transport breast milk there. I’m praying that a window will open and allow that to happen- but, as you (and the HMBANA rep) pointed out, plenty of milk banks in the US are struggling, to include the Denver bank and banks in Texas as well.

  7. To follow up about Haiti, the United States Breastfeeding Committee released a statement and call for breastmilk for the Haitian infants. I’ve posted the press release on my site if you want to take a look. Basically they are asking anyone that can to contact their regional Mother’s Milk Bank to donate the first shipment is getting ready to go out to the U.S. Navy Comfort.

  8. I am looking into becoming a breastmilk donor. There is just one thing bothering me. maybe someone could clear up. I am “donating” my milk and the parents of the baby recieving it are charged such high amounts. Why isnt the milk donated to the parents or charged the processing fee that it took to get the milk to them ?

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