When I was pregnant with my son, Jack, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It wasn’t a common thing in my family of origin, but I knew the general health benefits for baby and wanted to do my best. “First 6 months, then maybe a year,” I told myself. Little did I know, I’d nurse him for over 2 years. That’s likely because I set myself up for the best success; my husband and I attended a breastfeeding class conducted by the Breastfeeding Center at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital.
I learned so many more benefits that come from breastfeeding, not just for my child, but for myself. They briefly mentioned their new Milk Depot for Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes and how premature and medically fragile babies often depend on donor breastmilk as part of their successful healing and development.
My son was born a few months later and as my supply slowly came in, I worried that maybe I wouldn’t have enough to feed him. Well, I needn’t have worried because I ended up with oversupply. We struggled through my strong letdown and engorged breasts and finally found a rhythm. Even then, I was still producing much more milk than he needed, even with a deep freezer full.
I remember what the Breastfeeding Center had said about milk donation and filled out an application. After the application was reviewed and my blood work came back clean, I got my donor number. I had no idea how much I would come to love donating milk. I felt as if I was blessed to be a blessing to others. My son shared gallons of his milk by his first birthday, despite some pauses in donation for several cases of mastitis.
A little over a year later, I gave birth to my daughter, Libby, and called Milk Bank WGL to get set up to donate again the day after I came home from the hospital. I was so excited to give back again to such a worthy cause. If you didn’t know, it’s common to make a little more milk with each subsequent child, and that was true for me. My daughter shared over 10 gallons of her milk by her first birthday. Each time we would drop off a milk donation at the Milk Depot (pre-pandemic) my son would tell my daughter “Libby, nice to share your milk with sick babies!”
When I first donated breast milk with my son, I did so quietly. “Do not let the right hand know what the left is doing,” was my thought. It seemed unnecessary to draw attention to myself, because my hope was to help, not to look good.
But with my daughter, I decided to share our donation journey more openly and I am so glad I did. I have had the chance to dispel a lot of myths and misconceptions about donating breast milk and even had mother’s reach out to me asking how they can donate too. I was able to let people in my circle know that donating breast milk is safe when done through a milk bank like Mothers’ Milk Bank WGL. They test the breastmilk and pasteurize it. Not to mention the safety guidelines that donors commit to in order to keep the milk safe for the most fragile babies. Formula is a miracle of science that has saved countless babies from starvation and mothers from serious mental health issues. But in some circumstances, breast milk is just a better choice if it’s available. It is perfect nutrition for babies and hosts antibodies that cannot be replicated outside of it. It is the best protection for premature babies against necrotizing enterocolitis (one of the top reasons of death for premature babies).
I’m now expecting our third child that will complete our family and am looking forward to donating milk yet again. Science told me how valuable breastmilk is and my heart told me I needed to share.