The closest thing I have to a superpower is lactating. Making food that another human can eat—and thrive on—from my own flesh (well, technically my blood) has always been and always will be absolutely miraculous to me. And like any true superpower, I can use it for the highest good: saving lives.
Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but at the very least, donating breastmilk to premature or ailing full term babies can help their growth and recovery process immensely. One study showed that preterm babies who received donated breastmilk spent an average of 15 days fewer in the hospital than those who received formula. That’s two weeks of life at home instead of in the neonatal intensive care unit; two weeks of much-needed cuddles with mom instead of isolation in the hospital; two weeks of a new family settling in together in the comfort of their own home instead of staying in a hospital, anxious, apart, eager to be released.
Different things are done with donor breastmilk, depending on whether it is donated to a non-profit or a for-profit milk bank. If you go the non-profit route, the milk is basically pasteurized and prepared for distribution to hospitals. If you donate to a for-profit milk bank, the milk is processed to create different products, such as human milk fortifier. Human milk fortifier is concentrated milk protein which can be added to the birth mother’s milk to ensure very small preemies get enough protein and nutrition to grow quickly. There’s a great graphic here about the benefits of human milk for micro-preemies. (Check this out for more info on human milk products and human milk fortifier.)
In both Sweden and the US, the process to become a donor is fairly easy: contact a milk bank (some links below) to answer basic questions or fill in a health questionnaire, take a blood test (usually at the milk bank’s expense), and then start pumping, freezing, and shipping. Certain medications are allowed while donating and others aren’t, so be sure to check with the milk bank. You’ll have to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum—which you should be doing anyway if you’re breastfeeding a baby! You can find more eligibility criteria here, but be sure to read thoroughly all information from the milk bank you select.
Of course, I’m living in Sweden so I’m donating my milk locally, via Södersjukhuset in Stockholm. I’ve passed the screening process and just need to start pumping and freezing (I’ve been taking ibuprofen for my back pain, which I needed to wait to get out of my system before saving milk). Every two weeks, I can arrange for someone to come to our home to pick up the milk, which makes the whole process that much easier.
For information about donating breastmilk in Stockholm, look here (in Swedish).
For information about donating breastmilk in the US, here are some links:
Human Milk Banking Association of North America – non-profit milk bank, with a listing of twenty milk banks in the US and Canada accepting donations
National Milk Bank – affiliated with Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit company specializing in human milk products for infants
I have to admit that it’s a bit difficult right now to carve out the time to pump: once I get Zoë settled into a nap, which usually takes more time than I’d like, I’ve got a short amount of time to do everything on my to-do list for the day. Pumping itself is quite easy, of course: what I find a bit more difficult and time-consuming is taking all the steps to make sure everything stays super-clean and I avoid getting bacteria in the milk. As I get more accustomed to doing this, I hope to slip into a daily routine that makes the whole process easier.
Have you ever donated breastmilk? Would you? Have you had to use donated breastmilk? Do you have a superpower? 😉
Photos of me nursing August by James.