Human breast milk is powerful. One ounce of milk will feed three preemies for one day. It’s the only thing known to decrease the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in babies born prematurely. It contains antibodies that are known to help babies fight off viruses and bacteria, and can be used to help build immunity and increase antibodies in adults going through chemotherapy.
Why is Donating Important?
Donor breast milk recipients rely solely on donations from breastfeeding mothers with excess milk to give. In 2017, OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank received 347,242 ounces of donated breast milk from 475 donors. In return, the milk bank distributed 296,316 ounces of breast milk to NICUs all across Ohio, the eastern third of the United States, and two hospitals in Canada.
Marla Wilson, BSN, RN, CLC, Nurse Donor Coordinator at the OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank, explains that our milk bank is unique in that we analyze and label the bottles with the calorie amount. This process helps determine who receives what breast milk. Premature babies receive the high-calorie milk while cancer patients receive the low-calorie milk that cannot be used by the NICU.
Once the donations are received, the breast milk is pasteurized. This process preserves as much of the antibodies in the milk as possible while killing bacteria and viruses. Breast milk donations are only distributed to recipients who have a prescription. And while babies in the NICU always have priority, it also gets distributed to outpatient babies and adults in need.
Things to Know Before Donating
There are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about donating.
- The milk bank cannot accept breast milk if the mother smokes or has been taking herbs (especially herbs to enhance milk supply) or blood pressure medication.
- There is a certain waiting period for donations if the mother is taking certain medications or has recently received a live vaccine (such as MMR). Please discuss what medicines you’re taking and how that affects your donation during your telephone screening.
- Limit caffeine to 24oz a day.
- Limit alcohol use.
- If milk is stored in a refrigerator freezer, contact the milk bank before it’s three months old. If it is stored in a stand-alone deep freezer, contact the milk bank before it’s six months old.
- There’s an opportunity for milk to be used for research with consent signed by the donor.
How to Become a Breast Milk Donor
Breastfeeding mothers who are interested in becoming a donor must participate in a screening process to ensure the quality and safety of the milk. The process includes a phone screening to verify eligibility, completion of a medical and lifestyle history review, a signed medical release from the donor and physician, and agree to receive a blood test to screen for HIV, HTLV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and syphilis, paid for by OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank.
Once an approved volunteer, breastfeeding mothers may donate their breast milk until their baby is two-years-old by repeating their lab work every six months. Breast milk donations can be dropped off at one of four locations in Columbus, Dayton, Athens, and Cincinnati or shipped via FedEx with shipping containers and labels provided by the milk bank.
Mothers who would like to donate in memory of their child after a loss are invited to reach out to the milk bank. The milk bank displays a memory tree with the baby’s first name and date of birth to honor the child and bereavement donation from the mother.
OhioHealth Milk Bank is accredited by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.