“In the year since Everett passed, I have become very involved with the milk bank, and have been lucky to connect with a beautiful community of families,” Weidner shares. “Some of these families include other loss moms, some are donors with extra supply, and some are recipients. Joining the community of the Mothers Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes has been one of the most rewarding parts of this entire process.”
Although the mothers don’t connect directly with the babies or families they donate to, they know that their milk is saving lives.
“About 80% of the pasteurized milk we dispense goes to hospital NICUs and is offered to premature babies when mom’s own milk is not available,” Urbanski says. “These babies are often incredibly fragile. A human milk diet can prevent serious complications and surgeries from a devastating intestinal illness called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).”
Other donated milk is given to full-term and older babies, babies with medical challenges, and NICU graduates that require on-going tube feeding.
Weidner ended up pumping for six weeks and donated hundreds of ounces of milk to babies in need. She wants all mothers to know that if they choose donate, they can do it on their own terms – there is no rule about the amount that you have to pump (every ounce makes a difference!), and you can come up with a pumping schedule that fits into your schedule.
Most of all, Weidner wants mothers to know that milk donation is an option – one that can bring you some much-needed solace in a difficult time – and one that she wishes more mothers knew about.
“In the hospital, no one approached me about it, I think because they just didn’t want to say the wrong thing or make life harder in any way,” Weidner shares. “But what people don’t realize is that telling moms about milk donation gives them choices, when all their plans and dreams have been ripped away. I just want all moms to be aware they do have a choice – so that they can have some sense of control over their bodies, their next steps, and their child’s legacy.”
Urbanski says that the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes takes milk donations from any bereaved mother “regardless of medications or lifestyle concerns.” Milk is pasteurized at the bank and screened carefully. Any milk that is not appropriate for babies can be donated for research.
“We understand that milk donation is a very personal choice,” says Urbanski. “Not every mother will want to donate her milk, and we respect that decision. One of our goals is to increase awareness of bereavement donation as an option so that each family can make the choice that feels right to them.”
If you or anyone you know wishes to donate milk to babies in need, you can find a milk bank near you at the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). Informal milk sharing is also a good option for some mothers, and you can find more information about that at Eats on Feets or Human Milk 4 For Human Babies.