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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Urban fruit gleaning – harvesting homegrown produce for free

I’ve always been a fan of free stuff, especially when that “stuff” equals healthy food for my family. Although we aren’t struggling to put food on the table, I can still appreciate using food that would otherwise go to waste. It wasn’t until recently that I learned there is a phrase for collecting and using other people’s fruits and vegetables – it’s called urban fruit (or vegetable) gleaning.

So far this year I’ve gleaned 17 lbs. of zucchini and yellow squash, a large bowl of strawberries, a couple pounds of plums and several pounds of apples. Last year I gleaned a couple bowls of raspberries, cucumbers and enough concord grapes to make 20 jars of jelly.

Fruit and vegetable gleaning is a practice that has been going on for ages (traditionally, it is “the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest”), but it’s slowly moving into the spotlight recently as websites devoted to finding locations for giving or harvesting produce pop up across the Internet. Neighborhood Fruit, Veggie Trader and Fallen Fruit are three such sites.

  • Neighborhood Fruit allows users to both share and find fruit, vegetables and herbs, including the ability to register fruit trees on public ground or on your own property
  • Veggie Trader is “Your place to trade, buy or sell local homegrown produce”
  • Fallen Fruit – “‘Public Fruit’ is the concept behind Fallen Fruit, an activist art project which started as a mapping of all the public fruit in our neighborhood.”

You can also list your excess produce on sites like Freecycle (where I scored 17 lbs. of squash this year) or Craigslist.

Why glean fruit?
Tressa Eaton from Serious Eats says, “Urban fruit-harvesting engages a community, makes community members aware of their own local (and often organic) food resources, provides an opportunity for neighbors to meet over the boughs of fruit trees, and brings up important questions about public space. And in this economy the price is right.”

There are some “rules” or rather proper etiquette involved in urban fruit gleaning.

  • Ask for permission first – While technically any fruit that is hanging over or fallen onto public property is legal to take (according to a report done on KCRW’s Good Food), it is best to ask the owner first. Last year my brother-in-law (with eight kids to feed) had no qualms about knocking on people’s doors asking them if they were going to use all of their apples, pears, or whatever and if not, did they mind if he picked some. Most people are happy to see the fruit go to good use. Or as Granola Mama says, “If you are like me and have a fruit tree in your backyard, reaping the harvest can be both exciting, and well… a major pain in the ass.” After trying to harvest as many of her plums as she could, she called the “gleaners” to pick the rest and take to a food bank, which I will talk about more below.
  • Don’t take more than you can use
  • Be friendly and appreciative
  • Optional: take some of whatever of your finished product is (jar of jam, apple sauce, muffins, etc.) back to the person who gave you their produce. It’s a nice way to say thank you.
  • It’s also suggested that you arrive on foot, bring a friend, share your food, and say hi to strangers

Other ways to give or receive produce:
Using sites like Neighborhood Fruit or Freecycle aren’t the only way to find homegrown produce in your area. At the office where my husband works, someone recently brought in some of their excess zucchini and sent out an office-wide email to let people know where it was in case they wanted it. Others thought it was a great idea and now people are regularly bringing in their extra fruits or vegetables. Just this past weekend we stopped by the office and found several pounds of apples and plums there for the taking.

Ask friends or relatives if they have any produce to share and vice versa, let them know if you have any.

I also recommend walking or riding your bike around your neighborhood and paying attention to the trees in the yards. On a bike ride yesterday I discovered 10 apple trees (several of them just loaded with fruit) within a few blocks of my house, and a couple pear trees in my nearby park. I’d been down these streets many times before, but without really looking for the trees, I never noticed them. I hope to stop by one or two of the houses to ask about gleaning some of their fruit. I’d love to pick some for my family and then donate a few bags to the food bank which brings me to my next point.

Donating to local food banks:
Another excellent option for getting rid of your unwanted produce is to take it to your local food bank. The Society of St. Andrew “is a grassroots hunger relief ministry that relies on volunteers to glean nutritious produce from farmers’ fields and orchards after harvest and deliver it to people in need across the United States.”

A post and video on Cooking Up A Story tells of an organization that harvests produce to help out the local community.

Portland Fruit Tree Project provides a valuable service that helps communities benefit directly from local resources. Fresh fruit that grows on neighborhood trees is collected by volunteers, and dropped off at local Food Banks for distribution to those in need. The great thing about this program is that in large part, the fruit would not be harvested or eaten by anyone—if not for fruit gleaning.

Whether you glean for yourself and your family or to give to others, remember the etiquette above, feel good about all of the food you are keeping from rotting on the ground, and have fun!

Related posts:
From Sarah Gilbert at Wallet Pop: Picking the parking strips: the gleaning fruit movement
From Kim Severson at NY Times: Neighbor, Can You Spare a Plum?
From Kyeann Sayer at TreeHugger: Fallen Fruit: Free Produce on Los Angeles Streets
From Katy at Good is in the Air: Three Ways You Can Donate Food by Gleaning
From Julia at Homesteading – Mindful Living in Minnesota: Apple Picking!

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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