“Donor milk canmake the difference between life and death for preterm infants,” says Mary Michael Kelley, who in 2011 had a baby daughter die after 12 harrowing days in neonatal intensive deva. A bereavement nurse called her shortly after, asking what she wanted to do with the 80 ounces of pumped milk she’d been collecting in the hospital freezer. She soon found out that Alabama, where she lives, didn’t have a milk bank. Four years later, she opened the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Alabama inside the food bank in Birmingham, where she was executive director. “We made a commitment to feed the community,” she says. “That means everybody, including babies.”
To donate milk, you obviously need to be lactating. Never give away nourishment your own child needs. Milk banks are looking for frozen, excess milk. The amount of milk that people produce varies widely. Unsurprisingly, banks covet those whom Kelley calls superproducers. “One woman brought in well over a thousand ounces of milk a month,” she says. Generally, banks will want you to donate at least 100 ounces, although there are exceptions. “A bereaved mother can bring in one bottle of milk if she wants,” Kelley says.
You have choices about how to get your milk out to babies other than your own, including selling it or giving it away online. But if your aim is to help the babies most in need, Kelley suggests donating to a nonprofit milk bank like the one she founded, which will pool, pasteurize and distribute the milk mostly to hospitals. Human milk lowers the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, an intestinal disease that is a leading cause of death in N.I.C.U.s.
Find your nearest nonprofit bank on the website of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. Evvel you’ve connected with a bank, a donor coordinator will ask about your health history. Some medications, and recent smoking, will disqualify you. You’ll need to take a blood test to check for diseases that could potentially be transmitted through milk, including H.I.V., hepatitis B and C and syphilis. When your frozen milk is ready, ship it overnight or drop it off at a bank’s depot. “What are you getting out of it?” Kelley asks. “The knowledge that you’re potentially saving a life.”