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As a former breast milk donor who shared breast milk for years – totaling over 20,000 ounces, I have had the best, most bizarre and even straight up creeping situations. I decided it was time to write up a post about the dos and don’ts of breast milk sharing. Milk sharing with respect and kindness is important. Here is what to do and what not to do.
I know my situation may not have been the same as other milk sharing donor and recipient relationships because my story went viral. Going viral brings on a whole other level of requests and messages from strangers. Regardless, there are still some unspoken rules every breast milk donor and recipient should follow.
Where I Donated Breast Milk
When I began donating breast milk in 2016, it was strictly to a milk bank. I loved the ease of the whole process – from receiving shipping supplies from the milk bank to getting FedEx to pick up coolers directly from my house. Although I never met any of my milk bank recipients personally, it brought on the same amount of gratitude.
When I had my third baby and knew milk sharing would be part of our lives again, I decided to get into donating locally as well as to the same milk bank I donated to before – Prolacta Bioscience.
Breast Milk Sharing Groups
Since I had strictly been a milk bank donor mama for so long, it was a little frightening at first to get into breast milk sharing through Facebook groups. Luckily I was able to find some friends of friends through my mom workout group, but eventually I had to branch out to find more recipients.
I found Human Milk 4 Human Babies – California on Facebook to be the most successful out of all the groups I tried. It was a little nerve-racking at first. It’s the same feeling I’ve gotten when selling something on Craigslist.
The Pros and Cons of Breast Milk Sharing Through a Milk Bank
Donating to a milk bank can be fairly easy yet quite tedious at the same time. I will explain what I mean. The particular milk bank I donated to provides its breast milk products to fragile, premature infants in the NICU. For this reason, they have strict guidelines.
Here are the pros to donating or receiving breast milk from a milk bank:
- Recipient: Donor breast milk has been thoroughly tested and pasteurized, ensuring it is safe for babies to consume, especially those who are fragile.
- Donor: During the screening process, a phlebotomist will come to your home or work to draw your blood for donor testing. This is super convenient and free!
- Recipient: You may be eligible for free donor breast milk provided by Prolacta or another milk bank if your baby is in the NICU.
- Donor: Shipping breast milk to the milk bank is easy with their free shipping supplies (cooler, box, shipping label, bag and zip tie).
- Recipient: Milk banks have strict quality standards and ask their donors to follow strict guidelines for pumping, storing and cleaning breast pump parts.
- Donors: Breast milk storage bags are provided, saving you a ton of money from purchasing milk storage bags.
Here are the cons to donating or receiving breast milk from a milk bank:
- Donor: The cleaning and sanitation guidelines are strict and time-consuming. This takes up a lot of time and effort. The milk bank does not provide sanitizing equipment or pump supplies.
- Recipient: If your insurance doesn’t cover it, donor breast milk from a milk bank can be expensive – up to $4 per ounce.
- Donor: The application process is lengthy and from start to finish it can take up to two months. By that time you might have an entire freezer full of milk ready for shipment.
The Pros and Cons of Breast Milk Sharing through Facebook Groups
Even if you donate to a milk bank, there may be times when your breast milk may not qualify for donation. Examples include – you had a cold, you took Tylenol or drank an extra cup of coffee that day. This is when the option to donate locally through Facebook groups can provide another way to share breast milk.
Here are the pros to donating or receiving breast milk from Facebook groups or locally:
- Recipient: It is free, although it is polite to offer to replace donor’s breast milk storage bags.
- Donor: There is no need to pack up coolers or store milk a certain way (lying flat, for example).
- Recipient: The donor usually lives close enough so you are able to get milk rather quickly instead of waiting to receive donor breast milk from a milk bank.
Here are the cons to donating or receiving breast milk from Facebook groups or locally:
- Donor: You may get a lot of people who inquire about your breast milk. Some people may be rude, entitled or fake (for example, they actually do not have a baby in need and may be trying to resell your milk or use for body building).
- Recipient: You might wonder if you can trust the donor and how they take care of themselves, handle their pump equipment and store their breast milk.
- Donor: Not all recipients offer to replace bags. This makes donating costly for the donor. (Storage freezer/utility costs, breast pump and supplies, cleaning tools, grocery bills for eating healthy and eating extra calories, prenatal vitamins, etc).
- For Both: Not knowing the person behind the screen can be scary and bring on anxiety.
How to Practice Breast Milk Sharing With Respect
When it comes to breast milk sharing, it is for the benefit of everyone when both donors and recipients treat each other with respect. There are dos and dont’s – what to do and what not to do when it comes to sharing breast milk.
It is Hard For Both Donors & Recipients
It is important to remember that donors spend a lot of time and money to keep up with pumping and donating. From sleepless nights to replacing breast pumps and parts, cleaning pump parts and purchasing breast milk storage bags, it is truly a labor of love.
Not only that, but it can also be quite hard for the recipient as well. I know how tough it can be to ask for help and at times can feel embarrassing. It is important for donors to remember it may be really hard for recipients to ask for and accept donor breast milk.
Thank You is Powerful
These simple words can go a long way. Remember to say thank you at the very least. Some people have different ways of saying thank you such as sending a card or replacing breast milk storage bags. In whatever way you can, express your appreciation for the precious gift of donor breast milk.
Try to be Mindful
Remember that donors already sacrifice a lot of time and effort to pump their extra breast milk to donate to you. Always offer to pick up the milk or have a friend or family member pick it up if you are unable to do it yourself.
Be mindful about being on time and communicating promptly if you are running late or need to reschedule. This is one thing that was difficult for me because I run on a really tight schedule with three kids, school drop offs/pick ups and breast-feeding (at the time).
Nothing was more irritating than waiting around for a recipient to come pick up the milk. Try to be flexible and punctual if you can.
I say this in a way that is in the best interest of the donor. I totally respect those who want privacy and share very little about themselves on Facebook, but if a donor clicks on your profile and doesn’t get a good feeling about you, you may lose out on donor breast milk.
The reason I mention this is because I had quite a few people who wanted my breast milk but I did not get a good feeling about them for reasons that include:
- None of their public Facebook photos looked like they had any kids, let alone a baby in need
- Their public Facebook posts promoted drug use or illegal activity
- They looked like they were body builders with no children
- Men who did not appear to be dads or have a family
- Anyone who acts entitled or acts rude
- Unkind people
- No mutual friends (I have donated to a ton of people I did not know at all, but it does help to see if you have friends in common)
These are just some examples. Even if you have one profile picture with your family or newborn, this can make the donor feel much better about wanting to donate their breast milk to you.
If you feel up to sharing, tell them about your breastfeeding experience (or lack there of) and why you are in need of donor breast milk. This will make donors feel better knowing why they are helping you. Examples: insufficient granular breastfeeding tissue, low milk supply, cancer, or adoption.
When I had a man reach out asking if I could wet nurse his two year old daughter 3-4 times per day at my house, this was a very unusual and creepy inquiry in my opinion.
If a mother with an infant reached out and told me about her struggles with breastfeeding, I was definitely more inclined to donate to her rather than the dad needing a wet nurse for his toddler. See what I mean?
All in all, breast milk sharing can be a wonderful and life-changing act of kindness. Be kind, be respectful and be thankful 🙂