I did not plan to donate breastmilk.
I’m not sure anyone can plan out that path — a path that I’ve learned is very much dependent on genetics, hormones, and circumstance. (They don’t tell you that during birthing class.)
Nursing wasn’t easy for us. My daughter wailed, and I profusely sweated from a combination of stress and postpartum hormones.
Instead, I pumped. I pumped to ensure my slightly jaundiced newborn got enough to clear her bilirubin levels without needing to return to the hospital. I pumped for my sanity — to allow me to sleep (partially) through the night while my husband did a night feed (or two). I pumped because, despite all the built-up guilt we put on moms by telling them nursing is best, in the end, breastfeeding was not worth the added anxiety.
I did not plan to donate breastmilk. But as my freezer — and then my parents’ freezer — filled up, I needed to find a new home for my milk.
The funny thing about being a milk donor is that I don’t find many moms talking about milk donation. In part, it’s because of the conundrum we face. If we talk about being a milk donor, we inadvertently admit we are overproducing, thus potentially triggering the absolutely-not-true-but-feels-very-real cycle of guilt and shame for moms who struggle to keep up with their babies or have made the choice to switch to formula.
What I have come to realize is that all moms worry about their babies and their nutrition intake. The point at which we begin to worry may be different for each of us. Some of us worry about the type of nutrition, others are concerned about the quantity of nutrition their children require. For me, it was constantly worrying my daughter was not getting enough. I was able to freeze my milk because my daughter had trouble staying awake during feeds, resulting in a steep dip in her growth curve. Just because I was able to donate breastmilk does not mean those infant days were stress-free.
I am a proud milk donor. I am proud of the commitment I made to myself and my daughter to pump through her first year of life. Becoming a mom during the pandemic stripped me of many of my new “mom” communities, but I may never have found the one I did if not for COVID.
Formally, I donated to Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, a nonprofit community milk bank that provides pasteurized donor milk to fragile babies throughout the northeast. The process was straightforward — a health screening and a quick blood test. While I will never meet the recipients of my donations, knowing I was able to help NICU babies around the region is more than enough.
For the rest of my milk, I found Human Milk 4 Human Babies – Massachusetts — a Facebook community of 3,000+ moms, parents, and guardians across the state (both those in search of milk and donors looking to share their supply). This community is pure, unadulterated grace and kindness. Every day, posts show up asking for milk, and donors flood in with offers. The moderators are firm but fair, ensuring the community remains inclusive, protected, and free of unsolicited advice for all those seeking or donating milk.
Through the Human Milk 4 Human Babies community I had the enormous privilege of getting to know and even meeting in person local parents I was helping. Like one South Shore mom in remission from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma taking medications not safe for breastfeeding. Or the mom whose daughter was born by a surrogate and had run out of milk over the Fourth of July holiday. Or the brand new mom a few towns away from me who was actively going through chemotherapy for lymphoma.
If you are a fellow mom with a freezer stash of milk, please consider milk donation if you are able. To be considered part of a community of women who freely share extra milk with others without question has truly been a joy and an honor.
And if you are seeking donations, please know you are not alone. There is no shame in this, and there are so many local moms who want to help you, no questions asked.