Breastmilk is one of nature’s miracles. It is a wondrous liquid that is enough on its own to sustain a healthy, happy baby that has all the necessary nutrients to live and grow well. Naturally, milk supply starts forming towards the end of pregnancy. It begins with colostrum, the dense immunity-providing liquid that jump starts a baby’s immunity and provides protection against diseases. The more a baby feeds, the more milk supply is built up and within a day or two, a good supply is established. Unfortunately, some mothers are not that lucky.
Some mothers have biological reasons that prevent them from breastfeeding. Many are not ill, but still never build up a sufficient supply to maintain a baby’s growth. While formula is a readily available option, some mothers do not want to skip the amazing nutrition that comes along with natural breast milk. It is also possible that some babies who went through complicated births, or are born prematurely, do not thrive on formula because they require an extra dose of immunity to ward off infections that can be life-threatening to such fragile creatures. This is where breast milk donation, commonly known as co-nursing, becomes the answer.
Many women donate breastmilk in several ways. Sometimes it can be done from mother to mother informally. Other times, it happens through institutions like hospitals and breastmilk banks. In this article, we discuss 7 reasons why women should donate breastmilk and explain 7 ways by which this amazing gift can be given to others who need it.
14 Why: Helping Out
A study was conducted to examine the motives women have to donate breastmilk. The top reason that came up was their desire to help other women. Motherhood is hard and tiring on its own, so every mother feels that it is an extremely generous act to try and make another mother’s life easier. They feel blessed to be able to breastfeed their own babies, so they want to provide the same advantage to other children.
This donation could be to help a friend or a relative, or can be more general as in helping women who are strangers. Sometimes, it happens in hospitals when the woman in the room next door is unable to breastfeed and the new mother feels the urge to help out. It provides a sense of belonging, especially for new mothers, to be on the giving end of something that precious. Above all, it is extremely meaningful and satisfying.
13 How: Milk Banks
To help women who are having trouble nursing, other women who have excess milk can donate their breastmilk at milk banks. Through an official site, there are several procedures that a donor must go through. First, the mother is interviewed and asked questions about her health, diet, lifestyle habits and any recent medical procedures. Second, a doctor’s approval that the mother is healthy enough to donate is crucial. Third, there is often a minimum amount of milk that the donor agrees to donating, but some milk banks accept one-time donations.
Fourth, there is the screening process which ensures that the milk is free from infections and will not harm the recipient baby. Lastly, the milk is pasteurized to guarantee that it is sterile and safe to consume. The milk is packaged and readied to be distributed. The process may seem long and time-consuming, but it's worth it to make sure that the donor mother is not wasting time for nothing and that the baby who receives the milk gets the best possible nutrition and health benefits.
12 Why: Maintaining The Supply
Mothers who struggle with supply are advised to maintain their supply by pumping regularly. For mothers of newborn babies, who do not eat as much as the mother pumps, there is sometimes an excess. If this happens, a mother may decide to donate the extra breast milk instead of letting it go to waste. This is especially true for mothers whose babies refuse to take breast milk from a bottle and only feed directly from the breast.
Under the appropriate storage conditions, the extra breast milk is as good as the milk given directly from the breast. It is also a very tiring process to go on a pumping routine every day. All the effort makes a woman want to feel that her effort is worthwhile. So, instead of pumping just to get a good supply for her own baby, she opts for taking the extra advantage of helping others as well.
11 How: International Donation
Sometimes a mother wants her donation to go beyond the people in her country or area, or to certain women in a specific country. The best option in such a case is the International Breast Milk Project, which is a non-profit, and the International Milk Bank (IMB). Both companies offer online information about their missions and help women choose. The eligibility criteria are also available so the donor mothers can know if they qualify.
The application process is easy. The two institutions offer online applications. However, all websites have contact information that facilitate the process. There is also a phone interview that serves as the initial filtering measure. Like official sites in any country, screening processes are intense and the donors are chosen accordingly. The safety of the milk is a priority, especially the storage and handling aspect that ensures long-distance transfer between countries safely.
10 Why: Covering Expenses
Having a baby is an expensive ordeal. Not all women are financially secure enough to be able to cover the costs of the baby on their own without assistance. While some women gladly provide breastmilk for free, other women will want to get something in return, given the time and effort put into producing the milk. At official places where breastmilk donation is done, women are offered a good sum of money in return for their contribution.
Some women are blessed with extra supply and want to put their supply to good use for themselves and others. Giving breastmilk for money is a good way to achieve this objective. This process is assisted by the fact that there are no laws to regulate the informal part of the process. That is, if the buyer and the seller trust each other, there is no need for anyone to act as a middle man between them.
9 How: For-Profit Companies
As opposed to milk banks, for-profit companies believe that mothers should be compensated financially for the time and effort they put into producing their breastmilk. It is no secret that those companies turn a profit as well. Some people are against the concept for two main reasons. First, the donation is seen as a transaction, which undermines its meaningfulness as a noble act of helping other women and their babies. Second, they argue that those companies do not have the same standard of screening that milk banks have, and therefore the milk obtained from them is riskier than from a trusted milk bank.
It is actually a personal choice, because no one can force a mother to do all this work without getting something in return. This is especially true if the mother is in need of cash. The debate continues about whether the milk from for-profit companies is safe enough for babies, particularly with compromised immune systems. An example will be premature babies and those who are full-term but ill and prone to deteriorating health. It's argued that such cases cannot afford to risk milk that has not be thoroughly screened.
8 Why: A Healthy Community
When someone mentions breastmilk, the word that probably pops up in the head of most people is “immunity.” That said, some women want to play their part in creating a healthy, disease-free community. Breastmilk donation comes as one of the measures that almost guarantees children of a certain town or city grow up without certain illnesses. Of course, this can be seen as an inaccurate generalization, but it does not stop women from trying their best to ensure that every neighbor has healthy babies.
It's true that the positive effects of being given natural breastmilk in the first year or two of life lasts into late childhood. Some research went as far as correlating advantages in the adult life of some people with being breastfed as babies. They found positive aspects regarding weight, general health and IQ that amazed mothers everywhere. Being that crucial, women continue to ensure a healthy community for their babies to grow up by doing all they can in collaboration with others mothers to help those who need it.
7 How: Accessible Through Hospitals
Because those are the places where all the magic happens, it's common for hospitals to act as the middleman between one mother and another. It's true that the milk that comes from a donating mother at a hospital is not screened as intensively as those from milk banks, but they do have one thing to back them up – the medical status. A donating mother has likely gone through childbirth inside the hospital, so they are aware if she has any diseases, infections or other issues that prevent her from becoming a successful donor. Therefore, they're able to successfully provide high-risk or ill babies with the milk they need to survive.
In other cases, the hospital doesn't necessarily receive milk from a birthing mother. It's possible for mothers to walk in and donate milk without having given birth inside the hospital itself. Some people argue that giving donated breast milk can get in the way of the mother breastfeeding her own baby. However, given the number of cases in which breastfeeding is not possible, this is no reason to stop donating.
6 Why: Saving A Life
Women can donate breast milk with the aim of gaining advantages for themselves, their babies or others. Sometimes, it goes beyond offering advantages to someone who merely wants them and, instead, becomes a life-saving act to someone in grave need. This can happen in many cases where the babies are unable to thrive. First, preemies are born too weak and need every bit of immunity to survive to not catch any infections or diseases.
Second, breastmilk can be donated to full term babies or toddlers who are ill. The miraculous disease-fighting power of breastmilk makes it a huge adjunct for babies and toddlers who are struggling with deadly diseases, like cancer. Some research even suggests that breastmilk has stem cells and therefore is able to regenerate damaged tissues, which can be life-saving to babies who suffer from conditions that affect certain organ. Of course, there is nothing more noble than saving a life, so women are never hesitant to donate to such cases when they can.
5 How: Cross-Nursing
Cross-nursing is similar to informal donation. It also cuts out any third party between the donor and the recipient. Yet, the big difference is that the baby directly breastfeeds from the donor, instead of receiving her milk in a bottle. This requires very close contact between the donor and the recipient (think sisters!). Some mothers mix between cross-nursing and informal donation if the donor does not live with the recipient.
The same risks that come with informal donation come with cross-nursing. A woman may be tempted to have a friend breastfeed her baby, instead of going through the tiring and time-consuming process of pumping. Yet, if this is not someone very well-known and trusted, the risk of infections and illness is still there as long as no screening process happens to the milk. Again, it is an easy option if the circumstances allow it, but requires extra caution when choosing someone to be the donor.
4 Why: Absent Mothers
Giving birth is no easy task. Complications resulting from different procedures that happen during childbirth can be devastating for some mothers. It may cause mothers to come out of the birth unable to hold their babies, feed them, or take care of them by any means. After an abnormal scenario in the birth, the mother may be left immobile, in a coma, or deceased.
In such tragic cases, replacing an absent mother’s milk does not replace the mother’s existence, but it provides for the baby's survival necessities. This strategy gives the baby a chance at a good start for nutrition and for future health. This is especially true if the baby is breastfed directly (e.g. by a relative) than if given breastmilk in a bottle, because it gives the skin-to-skin contact that newborn babies crave. It's one of the most noble things a lactating mother can do for a family, and makes a huge difference in the baby’s overall wellbeing.
3 How: Informal Donation
Informal donation of breastmilk points to people sharing breastmilk the way they would share a milk carton. It's possible for lactating mothers to forgo official institutions and offer breast milk directly to each other. This cuts out much of the time wasted on screening and on the long process of bureaucracy associated with official donation. It also insures the supply is constant because the donor and the recipient meet directly and get in contact with each other.
The downside of that type of donation is the risk of infection. Unless the donor and recipient know each other very well (like close relatives and friends), taking breast milk from someone who is barely known can pose a risk. A mother has no information regarding the donor’s medical history and whether her milk is safe enough to consume. This is why the informal process should be done very carefully, and it is not uncommon to ask the donor for medical reports prior to receiving the milk.
2 Why: Giving Back
Breastmilk contains superior nutrition, and the belief that all children deserve the best drives women to donate so that all children receive what they deserve. When women understand what a privilege it is to be always able to feed their babies, they can't help but think of the less fortunate. Formula is expensive, and for some women who are on a tight budget, or those who went through a financial crisis, saving money by not having to buy formula can have a great impact on their lives. Some women have more than one child and are barely able to make ends meet, so they need every penny.
Sometimes breast milk is donated to a certain confirmed case that is known to be in need. Other times, it's given to institutions that make sure the milk goes to the poor and needy. Charity organizations can help women find needy women and help them out. In all cases, the sense of contributing to society and giving back to the world is fulfilling to many women.
1 How: Through Websites
Whether for-profit or for free, breastmilk can be donated, given or bought online. Some mothers can earn lots of money by selling their breastmilk to websites that pay money in return. Usually, the payment is set per ounce. Donor mothers are expected to pump and store the milk adequately. Shipping and pumping tips are also given to mothers to make sure that they are well-supported throughout the whole process.
Some websites offer a mixture of services. They act as a go-between for mothers who want to donate or sell and those who want to receive, in addition to other things like offering wet nurses, doulas and midwives. It's often a community of women who help each other out according to their needs. Screening may not be offered by the website, but they advise mothers on home pasteurization to minimize the risk of infections and problems in the recipient babies.