When her son was a few months old, McKernin began to donate her extra milk stash to Mothers Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes (Milk Bank WGL).
Bags collected across 70 locations in Illinois and Wisconsin are tested for bacteria, pasteurized, then given to babies in need (most often, infants being treated at hospitals).
“We’ve made a few drop-offs and I feel really good about it,” said McKernin whose most recent donation was 600 ounces of breastmilk. That’s more than four and a half gallons which seems like a lot – and it is – but it’ll also go fast.
A young baby drinks a 3 to 4 oz bottle about every three hours which is a lot of milk every day so you can see how a donation makes a difference to a parent who can’t provide breastmilk and all its benefits for whatever reason.
In an effort to make it easier for moms with an oversupply to help moms in need, Milk Bank WGL just partnered with DuPage County to open five new “milk depots” or drop-off centers at their health centers including the location in Wheaton as well as in Addison, West Chicago, Westmont, and Lombard.
“We were hearing more and more families just panicked with being able to feed their infants or their sick children because it was that specialty formula that was so hard to find,” said Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department referring to some babies who can’t switch to different, more available formulas because of allergies and other issues.
When the formula shortage hit, many families turned to milk banks like Milk Bank WGL where demand for breastmilk shot up 20%. We’re told the need remains at a critical level.
McKernin plans to continue donating for at least another three months while her son is still consuming breastmilk.
“The most difficult part is just the time. Just the time of pumping,” the mom of two said, adding that it takes her 25 to 35 minutes each pumping session, five times a day.
If she only produced what her son needed, those sessions would reduce to about 15 minutes. For those who don’t know, unless you’re using a hands-free, cordless pump (which can be expensive and sometimes clunky), pumping milk often requires momma to sit in one place.
What keeps McKernin going? The idea that her surplus is a saving grace for other babies.
Moms with extra breastmilk need to be screened before donating.
That process takes two to three weeks.
Insurance often covers some or all of the cost of a bag of donor milk but in some cases, you’ll pay $20 for 4 ounces from Milk Bank WGL.
A separate organization in Indiana called The Milk Bank tells us donor interest peaked in May with about 500 inquiries. Advancement Director Jenna Streit shared with us that the non-profit dropped a 100-ounce minimum requirement for donors in order to keep up with demand for breastmilk during the height of the formula shortage.
“I believe this removed some of the hesitation to becoming a donor and also reinforced that milk donation isn’t just for those who overproduce milk. We have incredible donors who are doing an extra pump every day or pumping an extra five minutes once day for their donations. It’s really incredible that so many wonderful people are willing to support lifesaving access to donor milk,” Streit wrote in an email to CBS 2.
Northwest Indiana moms can find more information about donor locations here.