Andrea’s Story: My Experience With Donating To A Milk Bank

Andrea H., Iowa

Editor’s Note: Recently, Andrea donated a total of 45 gallons of breastmilk to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa. In May, we shared a link to a news story about Andrea’s donation on the New Beginnings Facebook page. We followed up with Andrea to learn more about her experience of donating breastmilk to a milk bank, as well as her breastfeeding experiences in general.

New Beginnings: Tell us about your breastfeeding experiences. You mentioned in a previous interview that you had trouble feeding your son, Oliver.

Andrea: I knew right away I wanted to breastfeed. It was something I had always wanted to do, long before we started our journey to get pregnant. My son, Oliver, was born via emergency cesarean. Due to some health concerns after he was born, as well as complications on my side of things from medications I had received during surgery, we had to wait until the next day to begin breastfeeding and meeting with the lactation consultant. Oliver was being “finger fed” with a small feeding tube attached to the finger of a gloved hand, which he would suck on as milk (donor milk we were being provided with) was slowly pushed through with a syringe.

Oliver had a hard time latching in the hospital. We used nipple shields and spent lots of time with the lactation consultant. It took a few weeks, but we were able to latch with the nipple shield and then without! For me, breastfeeding was one of the most amazing feelings, and it may sound weird, but it was always so relaxing.* I breastfed as much as I was able to while home on maternity leave, and even after I went back to work we tried to keep the bottles to a minimum. My husband was a great support in all of this, and I definitely could not have done this without his amazing support! He would get up with me in the night and sit with me when I would feed Oliver. He would sit up with me when I had to pump after Oliver was sleeping through the night, and he would make my oatmeal every morning (the oatmeal helped with my production), and make sure to make my coconut water drink every morning for work.

I did my best to keep up with pumping at work once I went back. It was hard some days, and I was told it was an inconvenience being gone for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon. After I found a “private” place to pump (which ended up being the furnace room), I was able to get a wearable pump partially covered through my husband’s insurance – which was great to use at work – and I did not have to be gone as long for my pumping breaks.

New Beginnings: Why did you decide to donate your breastmilk?

Andrea: I had no idea how long I was planning on breastfeeding. I had a goal of making it one year. I knew I was going to start to build up my (breastmilk) stash.** We used the deep freeze to build that stash for use at daycare after I went back to work after my leave. A few weeks in, I was producing much more than was needed daily, and my stash grew very quickly. Soon we did not have room for our frozen food and had to buy a second deep freezer. It was around four months postpartum I realized the rate I was producing milk there was not going to be room, nor would we be able to use it in the recommended time frame.

At that time, I had looked into my options of donating or selling my milk, and I came to the conclusion I wanted to help mothers and babies who needed breastmilk. I (decided to) donate through the milk bank, even if it was a one-time thing to make more room in the freezer.

After the screening and approval process through the Mother’s Milk Bank, I started dropping off a few sacks of my milk at a time as I would need more room in the freezer.

Recently, just as the formula shortage was beginning, I was able to supply three local mothers with breastmilk for their babies. The formula shortage did not encourage me to continue donating but was more of an incentive, as I knew the need was more than what it had been. It was my plan to donate as long as I was able to.

New Beginnings: Although milk banks are becoming better known, many of our readers may not be familiar with what is involved as a donor. Walk us through the donation process.

Andrea: Becoming a milk donor is not a hard process but can be lengthy, and I definitely got antsy during the process. Each milk bank may have their own requirements, so I am only able to speak on behalf of my experience.

My local milk bank asked that I try to donate a minimum of 250 ounces, just because they do cover the blood tests, etc. I had to complete a series of blood draws for tests of contagious diseases and severe health concerns. I had to have notes written from my obstetrician, primary care provider, and my son’s pediatrician stating it was okay for me to donate). That process took about 2.5 weeks, but once I had the all clear I was able to drop off my first donation.

New Beginnings: Can you share more about where you and Oliver currently are in your breastfeeding relationship?

Andrea: I am still breastfeeding but am no longer pumping. Oliver nurses occasionally in the mornings, before bed, and occasionally on the weekends. I still encourage him to breastfeed, and sometimes that is all he wants. As he gets older, I understand he may turn away from it as there are more distractions, but as long as he wants (to breastfeed), I hope to be able to have enough of a supply so I can breastfeed him. I feel it’s a bond between the two of us, and it’s something I can do to help him feel close or comforted.

New Beginnings: How has breastfeeding shaped your parenting?

Andrea: I believe breastfeeding has connected my baby and me in an amazing way. It’s hard to explain. I believe we have a connection or bond that is there because of the closeness that was created.

*That relaxed feeling that Andrea experienced is thanks to the release of the hormone oxytocin, which is also responsible for the let-down reflex.

**While building up a “stash” of breastmilk is an option, La Leche League USA wants to assure parents that having an extra supply on hand isn’t always necessary.

Andrea noted in her interview that she often made use of online La Leche League resources when she did an Internet search for breastfeeding information. If you haven’t done so yet, consider bookmarking the following LLL links to quickly find information or to get in touch with a La Leche League Leader who can share additional resources.

Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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