The current baby formula shortage is affecting millions of babies around the country as parents desperately try to find enough formula to keep their children alive.
However, if you’re a mom who is currently breastfeeding, you can do a lot to help these babies in need by donating any extra breastmilk you have.
And you don’t have to have an entire freezer full of leftover breastmilk on hand to make a difference. Often, donating just a few bottles worth of breast milk can make a real difference in a baby’s life.
How Do I Donate Breast Milk?
If you have extra breast milk, and you’d like to share this life-giving gift, here are some things you should know. First, make sure you can spare the milk, with no problems for you or your baby. Babies between 1 to 6 months old drink about 19 to 30 ounces a day, but they may need more in times of a growth spurt. Here’s how you can calculate exactly how much you need for your own baby. If you are producing more than that, then you can consider donating any extra.
If you’re sure you have enough extra, then you’ll need to decide whether you want to donate it to a milk bank or through a milk sharing Facebook group.
Donating Breast Milk to a Milk Bank
Donating your extra breast milk to a milk bank is the most complicated way to donate breast milk, but it is also the best way to ensure that your milk is handled properly so that it won’t cause any sickness to other babies.
In Illinois and Wisconsin, there are a total of 79 milk bank sites where parents can get donated breast milk. All of the donations are handled by a non-profit organization called Mother’s Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes.
In order to donate your milk to Mother’s Milk Bank, you must first complete an online form and then undergo a 10- to 15-minute phone screening where they will ask you about what illnesses you have had, what medications you take, how often you drink alcohol and if you’ve had any risk of exposure to blood borne pathogens.
According to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA)’s donor screening guidelines, you may not be able to donate breastmilk if you:
- Smoke or use tobacco products or illegal recreational drugs
- Take non-approved medications
- Test positive for HIV, HTLV, hepatitis B or C, or syphilis or are at risk of having a bloodborne illness
- Recently received a blood transfusion or organ or tissue transplant
- Have had potential exposure to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Have tattoos, body piercings or permanent makeup
- Are a vegan who does not supplement with vitamin B12
- Have an at-risk sexual partner
- Consume alcohol
If you pass this screening, you must complete the full application form and provide your medical history, and then you’ll have to undergo blood testing at no cost to you. The entire approval process takes about two to three weeks.
Once you are approved, you can drop off your breast milk at any of the milk bank locations (use this site to find a milk bank location near you), where it will get pasteurized and then distributed to babies who need it.
All milk that is donated to Mother’s Milk Bank must have been frozen for less than nine months, and it must have been pumped before your baby’s second birthday. You must donate at least 100 oz. of milk for your first donation, but additional donations may be in whatever amounts you wish.
Donating Breast Milk Through a Milk Sharing Facebook Group
If you want a faster way to get your milk directly to moms who need it, you can offer to donate your milk through a milk sharing Facebook group instead. The disadvantage of these groups is that no prior screening or testing of the milk is required, so if you don’t undergo any testing, you may be donating milk that has pathogens you aren’t aware of, and unless you are able to pasteurize your milk at home, you will be passing on unpasteurized milk.
Still, these breast milk sharing Facebook groups are a great way of getting milk to moms as quickly as possible.
On most of these groups, people who wish to donate milk can create a post saying how much milk they have to donate, what medications they have been taking, and where they are located. Then parents who are looking to get milk can simply respond and meet up with the person donating the milk.
Most of these groups strictly prohibit people from selling breast milk.
Some of the groups that are active in our area include:
- Central Illinois Breast Milk Sharing
- Eats on Feets, Illinois Chapter
- Eats on Feets, Wisconsin Chapter
- Human Milk 4 Human Babies, Illinois Chapter
- Human Milk 4 Human Babies, Wisconsin Chapter
- Wisconsin Breast Milk Donation
How to Make Sure Your Milk Is Safe
However you decide to donate your milk, you will want to make sure that you use safe and sanitary methods for collecting and storing your milk to reduce the risk of any bacteria getting into the milk.
According to the Mother’s Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, you should:
- Keep pump parts clean using hot soapy water
- Store milk in single-use, sterile breast milk storage bags or containers
- Label bags or containers with the date that the milk was pumped
- Only store milk from different pumping sessions in the same bag or container if it was pumped on the same date
- Never mix temperatures when combining milk (e.g. only mix cooled milk with cooled milk)
- After pumping, freeze milk as soon as possible.
- If you keep milk in the refrigerator before freezing, move it to the freezer within four days.
- Do not scald or heat milk before freezing
- Make sure milk stays frozen during delivery
One extra tip: If you donate breast milk, the IRS might allow you to deduct the mileage you incur when you’re donating milk, as well as the cost of your breast pump, on your taxes. A win-win for you and for the baby who receives your milk!