I seem to be fulfilling my destiny as a cow for people by pumping enough for not only my kid but also to donate to a milk bank! After a screening process, I am now a donor for Mother's Milk Bank Northeast, a HMBANA member milk bank in Massachusetts. MMBNE is a newer milk bank; I was aware of them when Lily was a baby, but they didn't start screening donors and processing milk until she was a year old and milk banks want milk pumped before a baby's first birthday. So this time around I decided that if I pumped more milk than Hannah would drink I would look into going through the process to become a donor. I pump three times a day at work and I average 16-20 oz a day. Hannah takes 12 oz in bottles at daycare so as you can imagine my freezer stash is already threatening to take over the deep freeze! I'm not willing to drop to two pumping sessions a day until way closer to her first birthday. There's a sense of security for me in knowing I pump more milk than she needs.
I am not interested in informal milk sharing - I have reasons for this, which I may explain in a later post. If one of my friends needed some milk, that would be a totally different story, but to my knowledge none of them do. I also wanted to avoid "milk banks" which are actually a front for Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit company that uses donated breast milk to create a human milk fortifier that's sometimes used in NICUs. Nothing against Prolacta, I'm sure their product has a role in helping babies in need, I just don't want to give my milk to a company that will turn a very hefty profit on it. HMBANA milk banks are non-profit and while they do charge for pasteurized donor milk, it is to cover the costs of processing milk and screening donors to ensure safety.
In late September I contacted MMBNE via email. One of their donor coordinators called me at work and we did a brief phone screening which mainly consisted of the kinds of questions one would be asked if donating blood to the Red Cross. There were also questions about any medications or supplements that I might take on a regular basis. When I passed the initial screening, I was sent a packet of forms that included a more detailed 6 page medical history, forms to sign that released my OB and Hannah's pediatrician to fill out forms of their own, and a consent form for blood testing. All of the forms were filled out and faxed back. Within a day or two the milk bank had sent the forms to the two doctors and once they both indicated that there was no reason for me to not donate, and my health history was reviewed, I was sent my blood test kit. HMBANA milk banks test potential donors for diseases including HIV, Hepatitis B and C, viral syphilis, and one or two other things that would be really bad news to be passed along in donor milk! While I was tested for all/most of them during my pregnancy, a postpartum test is required. This kit includes everything needed for the required blood work - tubes for the blood sample, a physician's order, packaging and shipping materials, and instructions for the phlebotomist. It took me a little effort to find a place to have my blood drawn. The big labs like Quest and LabCorp won't do it because there's no profit to be made in it, so the drawing station at my OB's office was out. I called the lab at the hospital where I delivered my babies and they not only knew what I was talking about but they were happy to draw my blood as a courtesy - they even packaged it all up and sent it out with their afternoon FedEx pickup. I got a phone call 2 days later saying that my blood work was all clear and I was officially accepted as a milk donor.
All told, this is not a time consuming or difficult process and I was happy to go through it. After all, if my baby was premature or medically fragile and I could not produce enough milk to meet his/her needs I would feel much more secure knowing that milk donors go through all of this screening and testing to help ensure safety. The packing box for my first donation will be arriving tomorrow - I have around 150 oz to send for the first shipment. It feels great knowing that my excess milk will go to help babies for whom it may well be lifesaving.