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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And the money goes to…

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I posted about the new Mothers Milk Bank of New England’s quest to win $10,000 from Ideablob? Guess what! They won!!

Thanks to everyone who voted and posted about it elsewhere. Your willingness to vote and spread the word will make such a difference to many babies and families in the New England area! :)

You can read more about the big announcement over on Ideablob and here’s a link to the Mothers Milk Bank of New England.

Your vote can make a difference

Mothers Milk Bank of New EnglandI know I posted about this before, but now they are in the finals and your votes really matter because the contest is neck and neck! Please bear with me and read below. :)

A blogging friend of mine, Tanya at Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog, is trying to get a new Mothers Milk Bank started in New England, where no such facility currently exists. To help raise money for this worthy organization, she entered a contest on Ideablob where a monthly winner gets $10,000 for their cause.

The Milk Bank needs money for 1) processing and storage equipment, 2) a “Milk Money” fund to help families whose insurance won’t cover processing fees, and 3) marketing materials to get the word out about the new bank.

The MMB of NE made it into the finals (yay!) but it is falling behind and needs all the votes it can get to win. This is where you come in! Would you please consider taking a minute to click over and vote? You do need to register to vote, but it only takes about 30 seconds.

Vote for the Mothers Milk Bank of New England

Please, please pass this on to any breastfeeding supporters you know. Voting ends on Jan. 31.

Thank you so much for your help!

That’s my girl

While we were shopping at the sale last night (more on our finds later), Ava found a toy workbench with lots of tools on it. Jody saw her lifting up her shirt and putting something on her chest. He wondered what she was doing, but didn’t think much of it. Later, she came over to me and said, “here’s some milk for Julian” handing me an invisible cup. Still later, she handed an invisible cup to our friend Dax to give to his baby Trajan.

I hadn’t seen her putting the tools to her chest and Jody didn’t hear her say it was milk for Julian (but did see her give the “milk” to Dax – which he “drank” himself, hehe), so it wasn’t until later that we were both talking about it that we put the pieces together and figured out she was “pumping milk” for the babies. :) Leave it to my girl to turn a workbench and tools into a breast pump. Love her!

By the way, the pumping for the milk bank is going better for me. I’ve taken your advice (thank you!) and pumped while nursing. It goes much faster that way. Oh, and I’ve been able to express more milk the past couple days, so it seems my supply is meeting the demand of pumping each day. I feel so fortunate that I can do this. :)

My first few ounces

breastfeeding baby

Yesterday morning I sat down with my Lactina breastpump (on loan from the Mothers’ Milk Bank) and pumped my first few ounces of breast milk to donate to the bank.

Ava has been very interested in learning about the whole process of mommy pumping for other babies who’s mommies don’t make milk, and wanted to watch me pump. I thought it would be distracting to me to have her watch, but it turns out she had quite the opposite effect. Jody kept her downstairs for a while as I was getting set up and I could hear her asking if I was pumping yet. Once I’d been pumping for about 5 to 7 minutes and was feeling a tad frustrated because my milk wasn’t letting down (even though I was looking at baby pics of both Ava and Julian on the wall for inspiration), I told him to let her come upstairs. It certainly couldn’t hurt at that point. A minute or so after she walked into the room and started talking to me, my milk let down. Yay! I should have known that having her or Julian (who was napping at the time) in the room with me could only help.

I was only able to pump 2 oz. on my first try, but I am hoping that as I get into the routine of doing it daily (and up my water and oatmeal intake), I’ll be able to produce more. That’s the beauty of supply and demand. :)

Thanks again to Jennifer at The Lactivist for mentioning a couple months ago that Denver’s Mothers’ Milk Bank was having a severe shortage. Without that knowledge, I don’t know that I would’ve been motivated to look into it and start donating.

If you are interested in donating your breast milk, please read this article and contact a milk bank in your area. Many sick or premature babies and their mommies thank you.

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I have to add that seeing Ina May talk Friday night was amazing. I hope to find some time in the next few days to write all about it. I wish I was able to take notes while I was there so I don’t forget anything, but with my bouncing baby boy on my lap, that wasn’t exactly a possibility. ;)

donating breast milk

Julian’s first nursing

I wrote a few weeks ago that after learning that the freezers at the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Denver were very low, I had been considering donating my breast milk. I decided to go ahead with the screening process (which is quite thorough, let me tell you) and finally got my paperwork completed and mailed off yesterday. Now I wait for them to review it and, if I qualify, call me to come in for a blood test and to pick up my loaner breast pump from them.

I feel very fortunate and blessed to have had an ample supply of breast milk over the past nearly three years and to have grown one child on it as well as my 4 1/2-month-old who is, of course, still thriving on it alone. I am happy to now have the opportunity to share my milk with other babies in need.

If you are wondering in this day and age, with formula readily available, why milk banks are so important, take a look at this article. 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.

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.

There’s also some very interesting information here about the history of milk banking, including information about the history of wet nursing and artificial feeding (i.e. formulas).

If you are interested in donating* your milk, please visit Human Milk Banking Association of North America to learn more and find a milk bank in your area. Or if you are looking for a worthy place for your tax-deductible donation, please consider making a donation to a milk bank. Milk banks are non-profit organizations and depend on community and private donations to keep the doors open.

Thank you!

*Please note that they require your baby be no older than 6 months when you start donating, so if you are interested, please don’t delay in starting the screening process.