I had a two month supply of breast milk after Ander died, one for the month he was in the hospital and one for the month it took me to wean afterwards. Stopping pumping was excruciating. On one hand, I wanted to be done with the whole thing and have my days and nights to myself again. My leaking breasts were a daily reminder of my uselessness as a mother. They worked well, but my body hadn’t. What good is breast milk when your baby is gone?
On the other hand, that was all I had left of my pregnancy, of my son. The day I last pumped was one of the most emotionally difficult days of my grief journey. It was over. My period had already returned.
I was devastated that I couldn’t donate my milk to a milk bank because I had received a blood transfusion during my c-section. Finding out I was rejected led turned me into a hysterically sobbing mess for hours. The idea of all that milk going to waste was just insult to injury.
Fortunately, through Milkshare.org, I was able to donate my milk to local women in need at no cost to them. My milk was delivered to them at the hospital straight from the NICU freezers, the same milk that had nourished my preemie son for all 26 days of his life. Half of my supply went to a women who had given birth to twins and had PCOS, and was unable to provide enough for them. The other half went to a women who had adopted a baby girl and wanted to give her breast milk. All three babies were preemies; I was able to “request” this on Milkshare and they also try to match preemie mom donors to preemie babies, since preemie milk is slightly different than termie milk. I have one-year pictures of all three happy, healthy babies. Donating my milk was one of the most gratifying things I have ever done, even though I hope I never have to do it again.
I recently read and loved this article from The Atlantic on donating breast milk. It provides great insight into the pros and cons of milk donation and the variety of reasons people choose both to donate and to receive donor milk. Donating and receiving aren’t right for everyone. My words of wisdom for both donors and recipients:
1. Choose a reputable organization that does not charge recipients for the milk nor pays the donor. Charging for the milk has been shown to incentivize donors to water down the milk with cow’s milk in order to make more money.
2. Choose a local organization (or one that has local branches, like MilkShare). Get to know the recipient online first and see if they are willing to share with you a picture of their child’s growth. Both women I met were more than happy to oblige. They were overwhelmingly grateful and wanted to stay in touch.
3. Arrange for the milk transfer to happen in a safe environment. Picking up the milk directly from the hospital was the smartest option for both me and the recipients. They could see that I was honest with them, that the milk had been fed to a NICU baby, and that it was stored properly the entire time. I felt much more comfortable and protected by this arrangement, too. My hospital was happy to help facilitate – remember, your milk belongs to you.
4. Read the above article! There are many other things to consider, but if you are ever in the situation I was in, I hope you have the feel-good experience I did.