Urgent Request: Your Stories of Donor Milk

If you are reading this post after the original request deadline, please continue to send stories as the work to create and establish a milk bank in Utah is ongoing.  Thank you to all the families who continue to share their stories.


We are passing along an urgent request for mothers’ stories.  Your stories will help make milk banking and safe shared milk a reality for Utah families.  Think of all the mothers, the babies, and the milk flowing in our community!

Looking back on your own experiences and that of your friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors — do you know of babies who could have benefited from donated milk due to low milk supply, adoption, or other challenges?  Have you had personal experience with a milk bank at any time?  Would you consider donating milk if a local milk bank offered pumps and lactation support?

You may add your story to the comments below, email LLL of SLC at breastfeedingslc@gmail.com and contact Nicole directly as noted.

Thank you for taking the time to consider these issues and to pass a link or message on to others.

—  Susan


I am the Mothers’ Milk Bank Task Force Coordinator for the Utah Breastfeeding Coalition. An initial meeting to propose the establishment of a milk bank at the University of Utah will take place next week. (The University of Utah received the Baby-Friendly Hospital certification last February.) I have proposed the presenter to include mothers’ “testimonies” as one way to illustrate the need of a milk bank here.

Whether you could have benefited from a milk bank in the Salt Lake valley because your baby needed banked milk or you had excess milk and wanted to donate it, would you be willing to briefly describe your (past, present, or future) situation and e-mail it to me? If you had to use the services and products of a milk bank outside Utah, please mention it as well. If you have relatives or friends who could have benefited from a milk bank in the Salt Lake valley, please forward this message to them. The more names and stories I will be able to show, the stronger the message of the need for a milk bank from the grassroot standpoint.

Please act on this at your earliest convenience. I promised the presenter that I would produce a report by Monday.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Lactationally yours,

Nicole

Nicole Bernshaw, MSc, IBCLC
Mothers’ Milk Bank Task Force Coordinator
Utah Breastfeeding Coalition
5878 S. Country Hills Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84118 USA
Tel: (801) 969-7391
bernshaw@comcast.net

“Human breasts, and the incomparable nurturing and nourishment they provide, help define who and what we are as a species.” (James Akre. The Problem with Breastfeeding: A Personal Reflection. Hale Publishing, 2006.)

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10 responses to “Urgent Request: Your Stories of Donor Milk

  1. I know I’m late in responding to this but here’s my situation anyway.
    I delivered my 4th baby on June 10th. Just 20 days later, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was forced to wean my baby the day before he was 6 weeks old. I have been very blessed to have been given breastmilk from several people. For the first 4 months, he was drinking about 50% breastmilk. My suppliers are dwindling now so he only gets about 4oz per day (in order to make it as long as possible). Two of the generous women who gave me milk would certainly have donated to a milk bank. They gave me so much that literally half of my large upright freezer was stuffed with breastmilk.

    • Lori, thank you for sharing your story. It is wonderful to hear that other mothers were able to help your family at a difficult time.

      It is not too late at all for anyone to contribute a story. To date Utah has no milk bank. Every day in Utah, babies go without human milk when faced with a challenge — and mothers who would love to share an ample milk supply with others in our community have no safe and easy way to do so. I hope your story inspires others to share experiences. Each family’s experience helps to build the case that there is a real need in Utah for a nonprofit milk bank.

      Your baby is so lucky to be nourished by a circle of nursing mothers. We wish you well on your continuing journey of motherhood.

      — Susan

  2. As a former LLL Leader I have received many calls from mothers who needed donor milk. One was from a family member that called because her sister died during child birth and they wanted milk for the baby. Of course I referred her to the Milk Bank in Denver, but its expense may have been too great.

    I have also received numerous calls from mothers that have either weaned but were still pumping until their breasts were no longer full or mothers who had a desire to donate their copious amounts of extra milk that their children couldn’t handle or didn’t need.

    I have a friend who just had a baby earlier this year who needed donor milk because of several medical issues.

    Having a milk bank in Utah is needed beyond belief.

  3. One morning, as I was doing the dishes, I felt the beginnings of a strange pain in my abdomen. As the hours went by, the pain increased until it was unbearable. Ultimately, after four days of continuous severe pain, no sleep whatsoever, and several visits to the hospital, I found myself lying on the operating table at St. Marks. Apparently the scar tissue from an appendectomy I had had at age 15 was now responsible for adhesions that completely obstructed my small intestine, causing loss of blood flow to this organ. (At this time, I was 29 years old.) 25 centimeters of necrotic small bowel were removed and the bowel ressected.
    I remember lying in my hospital bed, overwhelmed with pain, and feeling like a loud freight train was rushing though my life, obliterating the tender nature of the relationship I had with my third child, then nine- months old.
    Since her birth, Leah had been extremely difficult to breastfeed. It had been a breeze to nurse her two older sisters so it was quite a surprise to have a little one that took such care and concentration just to have her latch on and stay there for a few precious sucks. I had to send her sisters out of the room and hold perfectly still so nothing would distract her from this important activity. She was small, thin and pale and so I kept her close to me all the time, in a sling, and nursed her very often, watching over her with great care and attention.
    At the time of the surgery, I had not left her with a babysitter at all, so it was her first experience being separated from her mother. I was in the hospital for a week. My mother flew out from Virginia to care for us. The first question was: how will she feed Leah? She gave formula to her, which caused Leah to scream continuously and arch her body in pain. She tried several different formulas, each causing the same result. Leah then began to passionately reject the bottle and spent most of her time sobbing.
    The kind nurses at St. Marks helped me to use a very nice breast pump and I diligently pumped all that I could. I was extremely concerned about my daughter. The surgery was so hard on my body that I dropped nearly 40 pounds, going from my usual 130 lbs. to an emaciated 90 lbs. I was as weak as could be and so my pumping sessions netted less than one ounce per day. For many days afterwards, it was extremely difficult to eat since digesting anything caused severe pain, which then impacted my body’s ability to make milk.
    A kind friend found out about our family’s situation and asked if we could use some breastmilk. My mother and I were profoundly relieved, so the friend phoned around and was able to obtain breastmilk from other women. Leah drank the milk willingly and stopped her constant crying. It was an extremely difficult circumstance for my mother and my friend to drive around picking up milk, often just in the nick of time for the next feeding, while caring for my 2 other small children. After I came home from the hospital, I added more work to this duty, as I required complete care. Leah drank milk from 10 different women! It was such a profound relief to all of us that she would accept this milk and feel comforted.
    During the week in the hospital, my mother brought the children to me once each day. I would nurse Leah a little, but she mostly sobbed frantically from the stress of seeing me after missing me the rest of the day. It was not very successful anyway, since I didn’t have more than a drop or two.
    After I returned home, my mother would bring Leah to me often. Leah would cry and look at me fearfully and crawl away from me, back to my mother. She didn’t want anything to do with me, as she was so traumatized over the separation. At night, she slept with my mom. I was too weak to hold her. My mother continued her daily journey around the Salt Lake Valley, picking up breastmilk from several other women, then making sure it was frozen, thawed and warmed correctly and then spending hours feeding Leah. It was a full time job for her and she was constantly exhausted.
    It took extreme patience and care to help Leah feel safe with me again and for her to accept my nipple. She would scream and arch away from me during the first few days of offering her my own nipple. Over the next few weeks, I mainly concentrated on two jobs: eating and feeding Leah. I found that I could handle brown rice, yams and water, so I ate and drank all I could and offered Leah my nipple several times each hour. I continued to need to supplement with other women’s breastmilk for 2 ½ weeks. At each feeding, I would work to get Leah to take my own nipple as long as she could bear it, then, when she became too frustrated with hunger and distress, I gave her a bottle.
    I mark the re-establishment of my breastfeeding relationship with Leah as one of the greatest achievements of my life. It took 18 days for my milk to re-establish and for Leah to willingly take me so that I could discontinue the use of other women’s breast milk.
    Thank goodness for those 10 women who donated their milk to my baby. It was extremely difficult to manage the logistics of that effort, but significantly impacted Leah’s health over that hard month. It would have been an absolute mercy if there had been a milk bank for my mother to use during that time.
    Leah is 14 years old at this writing. She is healthy and beautiful. She had a difficult childhood with several hard illnesses and was a thin, pale, small child. Now, at age 14, she has finally grown strong and tall. I am so glad that I could give her the best chance during her early childhood to benefit from a long breastfeeding relationship.

  4. Her birth was hard, and then she didn’t breath—every parent’s worst nightmare. My first child, Maggie, was transported to Primary Children’s Medical Center. My mind and heart were as traumatized as my pelvic tissues and perineum. As a Mother, nothing was more important than being with my baby. So of course, rest and recovery were the last things on my mind.

    Maggie had brain damage. The news came quickly and horribly. Doug and I entered the NICU and saw our naked little girl wired, tubed, and needled. She laid limp, her little lips quivering, and black eyes staring. Could this be the rolling ball of life that filled my womb just moments before?

    Somewhere, deep inside, something rose inside of me. It was a power, an ownership, a mantel that was new and unfamiliar. I was a mother, something different than I had ever been before. And, my baby needed me. The lioness had awakened.

    My first questions were about her nourishment, “When will Maggie be able to breastfeed? “She might never breastfeed.” “Then when will you be giving her my breast milk?” “She won’t be able to take in anything but sugar water through IV for at least four or five days.” “Please, I want her to have breast milk, and only breast milk when she is taken off of the sugar water. This is very important to us.”

    Good, I had a few days to build up a milk supply so that Maggie would have exactly what she needed to make the best recovery she could.

    I followed the lactation nurse into the pumping room for an orientation. Cups, tubes, switches, disinfectant. I blinked a few times, restated the process, and told her I thought I could take it from here.

    I settled into the chair, bore my breasts, and attached the machine that would come to be a most treasured and despised friend. Was the suction right? How long had it been? Why was nothing coming? Was I doing this wrong? Was there something wrong with me? Suddenly, there it was, a small bead of colostrum; one small drop from one breast. At the nurses station I asked, “Can I please have an empty syringe?” This precious liquid life was not going to be wasted, even if I had to gather it drop by drop!

    My first harvest of breast milk yielded about 1 ml of colostrum, an amount about the size of your pinky nail. I proudly carried my tiny syringe of milk to the large industrial standup freezer. I opened the door and was greeted by pink bins overflowing with 6 oz. containers of milk. Those babies couldn’t have used that much milk in a year! I placed the syringe on the bottom of my pink bin. The little drop of milk and I suddenly connected; could it possibly feel as overwhelmed and inadequate as I did at that moment?

    Day after day I struggled to fill the tips of my syringes. The moment of Maggie’s first feeding was soon approaching and I couldn’t imagine that I would gather enough. But, I couldn’t fail her. If I couldn’t hold her, or sleep with her, or stroke her, then I was darn well going to give her wounded little body and brain the best I had to offer—breast milk.

    My sorrow, stress and physical pain began to compound with my lack of time to recover and get enough sleep. Looking back, I’m not surprised that it was difficult to produce sufficient milk for my child. Despite the cards being stacked against us, I was undaunted.

    Maggie’s first feeding came, and to the surprise of all of us there was enough. I was so proud. We did it—these breasts and I! Maggie would now be fed by a tube every four hours, the amount of milk increasing daily. I would pump every hour or two to stay one feeding ahead of her. The challenge created a constant state of worry for me.

    I would get Maggie’s bin down from the top shelf and put in her one container—every few hours, one container. Sometimes I would rush into her room right on the hour of her feeding, handing the nurse a container with just enough milk to feed her.

    One Saturday morning I was getting Maggie’s breakfast for her 9:00 a.m. feeding. It was a rare pumping session as I was able to get a full 6 oz. bottle of milk. This would last at least 1 ½ feedings. Whew! A bit of relief. I set the lid on the jar and began to pick up my things. I turned back to attach a label, forgetting that the lid was not tight, and . . . I watched the liquid gold flow across the tabletop, down the side of the chair, and soak into the carpet.

    The blood drained from my head and I felt like fainting. My heart flailed its arms trying to find the switch to rewind that horrible moment. Indescribable loss and discouragement overcame me.

    I found my way outside the hospital to a private garden. Sitting on a rock by a little flowing stream I wept and wept. I had to laugh in the middle of my weeping, though, as I thought of the saying, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” Well, I was most certainly going to cry over MY spilled milk!

    All of my work to make sure that my baby had the perfect food for healing was suddenly lost. There wasn’t enough, and I wouldn’t be able to make it up. They would have to give her formula. But, she needed “me;” it was all I had to give her.

    Hospital policy would not allow me to bring in someone else’s milk that wasn’t from a registered milk bank, and the closest one was in Colorado anyway. “Well then, I just won’t get permission!” I called a dear friend, and, through my tears said, “Please, I need some milk for my baby. Can you help me?” Her daughter had just given birth a few months before and had plenty of milk to share.

    As Maggie’s feeding requirements eventually surpassed my ability to provide, this dear friend supplemented my baby with the most precious gift of breast milk. Of course, I snuck it in under the guise of my own.

    I often wonder how my struggle might have been different had I had the resource of a local milk bank. Could I have spent more time sleeping and recovering, and less time hooked up to a machine in the middle of the night? Could I have spent more time kissing my baby, and less time crying in the pumping room? Could I have felt more empowered and capable as a mother and less time struggling with thoughts of inadequacy?

    I wonder how many other women are out there, the details of their stories unique, but each ending the same as mine—If only they had the resource of a local milk bank . . .

    Please, bring a milk bank to Utah . . . mothers and babies are crying for it!

  5. My girls are 9 and 11 months. They both had low blood sugar at birth (an extremely common condition). We were forced to suppliment with artifical milk during their first few days. Luckily I was adamant about breastfeeding and fed my oldest until she was 5. In fact after my milk came in I was blessed with an overabundance of milk. I would have benefitted from a local milk bank and been able to pay it back in spades. This situation was repeated with my youngest child.

  6. I am a new mother of twins and over-producing milk. By the time we left the NICU, we had a whole freezer full of excess milk. There is no way we will use it all, and I’d be happy to donate it to someone in need. The nurses told me of the bank in Denver, but to be honest I don’t have the time or means to figure out how to ship it there. I would much rather donate it locally, and having a bank in Salt Lake would be much more convenient.

  7. I feel very fortunate in that my 25 month old son and I continue to have nursing as part of our relationship. He is a very healthy youngster and I believe breastmilk has been key in his healthy development. I have always produced a large amount of milk, and i still do ~ 2 years out! I know many women who haven’t had the success we have had, and I have always thought I would like to be a donor. If there was a milk bank here in Salt Lake City I would undoubted and happily share my milk!

  8. I donated milk to a family here in Salt Lake. A mother was in a car accident and died. Her son was 3 months old. I was happy to give the father some milk. It would have been nice to send him to a Utah location where he could have had more at his convienience, from a location that had enough for him.

  9. 5-week old baby that started losing weight, I couldn’t express any milk. She seemed to nurse constantly, but as it turned out, she was nursing ineffectively, and as a first-time mom I had no idea! She had a pretty lazy suck and hadn’t been stimulating my breasts sufficiently to produce a full milk supply. We had to supplement with artificial milk and then began an odyssey of nursing at the breast with an SNS (approximately 30 minutes), then pumping (another 30 minutes), then cleaning all of the gear (approximately 15 minutes), and repeating the process in 30-45 minutes so that she was nursing at the breast every 2 hours. From combining all of the pumping, I had milk for the SNS about half of the time and had to use artificial milk for the rest.

    How would donor milk have helped? My daughter could have avoided the artificial milk and enjoyed the benefits of human milk, even if it wasn’t mine.

    We did eventually get to a point where I didn’t need the SNS anymore, and she is still successfully nursing at age 3 years.

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