When a family suffers the loss of a baby it is extremely important to for that family to find ways to honor their child’s life in both big and small ways. Many families try to find ways to create a lasting legacy for their child. Although some pursue organ, eye, tissue, or whole body donation, this type of donation is not for everyone (either by choice or circumstance). Thankfully, there are other ways to participate in donation. A few months back we highlighted donation in the form of blood samples donated to research studies in our blog post “All Donations Matter.” Today we are going to focus on another amazing opportunity for donation that is often overlooked – breast milk donation.
Many people do not think about the fact that after a mother loses a child, especially if it is a full-term loss, that mother will most likely still produce breast milk. This can cause a full range of emotions, and each person deals with these emotions differently. Although many people make the choice to dry their milk up quickly, others make the choice to encourage their milk to come in so they can pump and donate that milk. Donated milk can either go directly to another family who is in need, or be donated to hospitals to help babies that are in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Donating milk is a true sacrifice and commitment. Not only does it take emotional fortitude, but a large time commitment, and the willingness to ignore physical discomfort. Despite the sacrifice, for many bereaved mothers, the investment is worth it. This “liquid gold” or “legacy milk” as some people call it, is invaluable for the babies who receive the nourishing benefits of the donation and allows a mother to create a lasting legacy for the baby she misses.
Tiffany, mother to baby Joy, shares some of her current journey of milk donation:
“I wanted to donate Joy’s milk because after doing clinicals in the NICU, I realize how in need these babies and families are.” Tiffany says she has the goal of pumping for 6 months. So far, in less than a month Tiffany has been able to pump a little over 600 ounces and has been able to donate 300 ounces. “Pumping has helped me heal because I believe that by helping others, we help ourselves. I would recommend donating milk to every lactating mother, not just those who have lost their baby.” So far, Tiffany has been able to donate directly to other mothers and is in the process of getting approved by the Mothers Milk Bank with hopes of donating through that organization. The mothers that she has been able to donate to directly have been extremely grateful for the donation and are happy they have not had to supplement with formula. When asked what insight she has for other mothers, Tiffany states, “The only insight I have is to stay consistent with pumping and if it becomes too much, don’t feel bad if you have to quit because you’ve helped by just donating 1 bag. That’s something to be proud of.”
Mary, mother to baby Nathan, shares about her journey of donating milk:
“I didn’t consider pumping and donating right away. It was my husband that first mentioned it to me, and after meeting with another couple who lost one of their twins and went on to donate, I was sold on the idea.” Although Mary didn’t think she could handle going through the engorgement and pain that would come with pumping, she chose to donate for many reasons. “I had nursed both of my older boys until a year or so and knew from experience that I was an overproducer in the beginning and I thought it would be easier on me to pump and wean gradually. Breastfeeding had also always helped melt away the pounds and I was hoping it would do the same this time. So, for both personal reasons and thinking of those we could help, I chose to donate Nathan’s milk.” She goes on to explain that donating became a family endeavor saying, “I should say WE chose to donate, because it truly was a family effort. Without my husband and boys to support me and help out, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I pumped for almost 3 months, starting when Nathan was born October 1 (2014), and ending the day after Christmas (2014).”
Mary was able to pump 3434 ounces!!!! She chose to donate those 3434 ounces to a milk bank that helps supply her local hospital with milk for babies in the NICU.
Mary said, “Being able to do that was incredibly healing. It helped me feel as if I didn’t have to say goodbye to Nathan all at once, a part of him was still with me. It also helped to know that because of him, others were benefiting and it gave his life even more purpose.” Mary says she would recommend pumping and donating to other moms but shares some advice by stating, “I would make sure you go into it with realistic expectations and be ok with stopping if need be for physical or mental/emotional reasons. It can be very challenging to have your baby’s milk when they aren’t here. For others, it just doesn’t work out and I would hate for anyone to be discouraged. No matter what, if it is something you think you want to try-go for it and see what happens.” As a thank you to Mary and to honor baby Nathan, the milk bank she donated to has placed a leaf with Nathan’s name on their giving tree and has invited Mary to come visit. Mary reflected on how kind and compassionate the milk bank was through their entire experience. Mary sums up her journey by saying, “To be able to help others who desperately need it and have my son be a part of that was worth it.”
Danielle, mother to baby Kadence, shares some of her current journey with milk donation
When asked what made Danielle consider donation, she shared two stories that had a deep impact on her. She states, “I was a part of a yard sale group online and one day I saw a post that planted the seed. In this post a mother had left her baby with her husband at home as she went to the store. She was in a car crash and passed away. Her very young baby had been breast-fed and now had no source of food.” Danielle explained that the group was asking local mothers to consider donating extra breast milk to help this family. Danielle was still pregnant and had no way of helping. A short time after she came across a second post, that again impacted her. “I read another post about a mother and father who went out and left their children at home. They were hit by a semi and both passed away. They had four children, their youngest being three month old. Once again they were asking for donating breast milk. But this time was different. This mother had been over producing and had donated her extra milk to two other families while still being able to supply for her baby. Now there was not just one baby without food but three.” Sadly, she was still unable to help due to being pregnant. But that did not stop her desire to help, “I decided that once Kadence was born I was going to honor her by donating her legacy milk to other babies in need.”
Danielle, who delivered her daughter, Kadence, in January, has now been pumping for seven weeks and has donated hundreds of ounces of “legacy milk.” She says she plans to pump for at least three months, although she has had to cut back some due to various life situations. She states that pumping has helped her in multiple ways, “I believe pumping help me, not only emotionally but physically.” She encourages other moms to pump, even for a short time to accelerate the healing process after pregnancy. “I would 100% recommend it. Yeah it’s hard to continue waking up two or three times in the middle of the night to pump, but it’s okay if you don’t do that! In the beginning I was able to, but now I just pump three times during the day.” Although she notes that her supply has gone down, she is happy to still be getting milk. “It may be a smaller amount than I was getting but it will still help! There is a saying that ‘there is no footprint too small that it can’t leave an impression on this earth’. I may not be getting 50+ ounces a day anymore, but that small amount will still help.”
Danielle has made the choice to donate directly to other moms. One way she has accomplished this is through a Facebook group called “Eats on Feet.” She decided not to donate through a company citing that many companies who supply hospitals also bill the hospital and make money in the process, She says, “The purpose I donate is to help babies in need.” She does not want a private company to profit. Danielle is now saving milk for a friend. “[She] is planning to adopt and wants the best for her new baby. It feels good to know that her baby will be able to have breast milk even though my friend can’t physically provide it.”
Danielle has been happy with her donation experience. She reflects on the journey by saying, “Emotionally [pumping] can be hard, but then it’s also amazing. I wish I was feeding my baby, I wish I had Kadence in my arms but I don’t. She’s in heaven where she feels no hunger. There are babies here who are in need. And feeding them, knowing that your baby is allowing you to help other babies, that’s a great feeling.”
Thank you to Tiffany, Mary, and Danielle for sharing your experiences and for generously giving to others, even in the face of loss. Thank you to all the other moms who made the choice to donate milk, create a lasting legacy for your baby, and provide nourishment for babies in need.
Please join us tomorrow for “part 2” of our legacy milk celebration. We will feature a guest blog post written by Amy, mother to baby Brody. (Link to Part 2: http://purposefulgift.com/legacy-milk-part-2/)