A Milk Donor Story

Opening a Milk Depot in Ellsworth has widened the network of mothers around me. One was a woman I met at a YMCA class. She shared how important Donor Human Milk was when her firstborn arrived. Leeann’s story illuminates the value, emotionally and physically, a donation of Human Milk makes. We hope this will inspire more donors in the Ellsworth and Downeast region of Maine.

Robin: Had you heard of Human Donor Milk?
LeeAnn:  Not until we used it!

Did the hospital provide this milk for your baby?
Yes – the hospital encouraged this as an option for our son immediately after he was born because I was not there to breastfeed.

What hospital was that?
Fort Collins, Colorado – Poudre Valley Hospital. We were shortly thereafter moved to a new hospital with a trauma unit where we were also provided donor milk.

What kind of information were you provided?
Ha! I have no idea.” – Alex, her husband replied.

They just encouraged it and my husband said “Yes, lets go for it.” (We think that is what happened, it was kind of an overwhelming day).

Did your partner make the decisions and how did he do that?
Yes – he was the one to decide to use the donor milk. I think at the time everything was a disaster and it was a lot of deferring to the doctors about what was best for our baby.

The one big challenge that came up was that while we were in the hospital the first few days, the donor milk could only be handled by the nurses. It was stored in the nurses station and so he had to sometimes really advocate to get our baby fed when he was hungry. The nurses were doing the best they could but we were split between the post-natal and ICU. It was sometimes difficult to get a hold of the right person.

What was most helpful to you at that time?
My partner having one less thing to worry about in a really difficult moment in our lives is something I am so grateful for.

While I had a complicated pregnancy, we NEVER expected that things would go so wrong so quickly. Knowing our baby was getting what he needed – and knowing there were people in the world kind enough to offer this sort of support to us – was and is still really important to me.

What kind of support did you find helpful at the time?
At the time, I think we just took advantage of this because we felt like it was being recommended by people we trusted.

When I was conscious again, though, there was a lactation consultant who worked with me to pump, even though I was in no state to do so. It wasn’t super productive given the trauma I had experienced. But it did eventually allow me to supplement what our baby was getting from the donor with more stage-appropriate milk. And eventually to let our donor know that I was producing enough that her milk could go to someone else who needed it.

Were you able to receive more HDM when you left the hospital?
We were! Our pediatrician ended up finding someone in the community who donated milk to us for a while – I can’t remember the exact timing but it was at least a few weeks to a month.

As far as I know, the arrangement was informal but it was such a beautiful and meaningful gift. We got to meet her (Laura) at one point and meet her baby – just for an hour – but it was something I will never forget. I’m actually tearing up a bit thinking about it.

Thank you to Leeann and Alex for sharing this personal story. And thank you, Laura, the donor, for sharing the health.

This conversation also introduced three more important points.
1.  Parents can discuss Donor Human Milk ahead of time to understand this important option. Let your providers also know. It is dependent on whether the hospital/clinic has access to enough Donor Human Milk. That’s why we need more donors.

2. Being in a hospital can be overwhelming, even for the staff. As in all health care situations, plan to work with the providers as a team. Politely and persistently communicate what you need and aim for clarity.

3. To be clear, informal milk donations are separate from the Milk Bank network. The Human Milk Banks of North America prioritize donations for preterm and medically fragile babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Those are the most vulnerable infants. When there is enough Donor Human Milk, they can also provide milk for older and healthier babies.

For more discussion about milk sharing in the community, check out these guidelines from Eats on Feets

If you are inspired to become a donor, or just curious about donating, the Mothers Milk Bank Northeast can answer your questions.