As a nurse, Sandi understands the value of breastmilk. When working a few shifts per month in her hospital's NICU, she spoke with moms about breastfeeding and donor milk. Sandi's work experience with critically ill babies coupled with the traumatic birth of her own son make her story unique.
Sandi's son Rich, now 3, spent four months in the NICU. He was born at 24 weeks due to Sandi's rapidly developing HELLP syndrome. He weighed just 15 ounces and measured 11 inches long at birth.
"We were terrified," Sandi says of her and her husband after Rich was born. "We had no idea if our son would survive and if he did, what kind of medial issues we would have to overcome."
A combination of stress, fear and pain contributed to Sandi's inability to produce breastmilk. When the neonatologists in the NICU offered donor milk as an option, the family gladly accepted. "I was so thankful for selfless women who donated their precious milk so that my son, and other critically ill babies, could have a fighting chance against NEC and other potentially fatal conditions," Sandi said.
Today, Rich is healthy and full of life, and enjoys going to preschool three days a week. He is also a big brother to 6 month-old August. August, too, spent time in the NICU after her birth at 37 weeks. Her stay was much shorter, though, and after three days she went home as scheduled with Sandi.
With August, Sandi says she felt like a natural at nursing. She knew this was her chance to become a milk donor and help others in a way that meant the world to her. After completing the donor screening process, she began to drop off her extra milk at her local depot, Outreach Health Services in the Dallas suburb of Rockwall.
Sandi has a wealth of breastfeeding and pumping advice for her fellow moms. She suggests doing anything you can to make pumping easier, including investing in a good, hands-free pumping bra and keeping healthy snacks accessible. Looking at photos or videos of your baby while pumping can help with let-down, and it's crucial to drink plenty of water - so she recommends buying fun and colorful cups to add some variety. For donors, she advises calling your local depot in advance to give the staff a heads up when you're dropping off a donation.
Donating breastmilk can make a world of difference for a medically fragile baby. To Sandi, donation is synonymous with life.
"I hope that my milk will contribute, in small part, to another family walking out of the NICU with their healthy baby," Sandi said. "I am so thankful for this opportunity and that things have finally come full circle for us."
Michelle from Birmingham, Alabama, donated her extra breastmilk a few years ago after the birth of her daughter, Neva. In the following story, originally published in December 2015, Michelle shares the story of Neva’s birth on Christmas Day and her experience as a milk donor.
My daughter, Neva, was born on Christmas morning last year. I was committed to letting her come when she was ready, even if that meant arriving on Christmas Day. My family had been asking me for weeks if they should come to Birmingham for Christmas or wait until she arrived to travel from Memphis (about a 4 hour drive). Everyone arrived at our house on Christmas Eve, we had a great meal and went to bed.
My labor started around 3 a.m. We headed to the hospital and she was here right on time – 9:42 a.m. on Christmas morning. Our son had just turned 2, so Santa decided to wait two more days to come… until we could all be home together. As our kids get older, we will have to come up with a better plan for making her birthday celebration special and separate from other family traditions and events. (Luckily we have time to figure that out!)
Breastfeeding has become such an important part of my identity. The more you learn about it and the benefits, the more passionate you become, and the more you want to share what you know with others. I think it’s much easier to “trust your body” when you know what to expect and have an understanding of the science behind the process. There are great evidence-based online resources and books. I also really appreciated my mom’s advice, “Drink a tall glass of water every time you nurse or pump.”
I found out about MMBNT through efforts to establish a local milk bank depot in Birmingham. After the birth of my son (3 years ago), I joined a breastfeeding support group and affiliated Facebook group. The moms in the group often talked about formal and informal ways to share and donate milk. The screening process to become a donor was very smooth. There are several steps, but they are all easy and it was a much easier process than I would have thought. I think some people hear the word “labs” and expect something very involved, but I just stopped by a local LabCorp site less than a mile from my house and was in and out in 15 minutes. Very easy.
I have been lucky to have a good supply for both of my kids and made the decision to tandem nurse them for the first 10 months or so of my daughter’s life. Now that I am no longer tandem nursing, I look forward to having more milk to donate in the year ahead.
To learn more about becoming a milk donor, click here.
Cassandra’s experience with donor milk has come full circle. In 2009, her son was born 9 weeks early due to HELLP Syndrome. Because of her medical complications, she was unable to provide him with her own breastmilk for the first few days of his life. Donor milk gave him the nourishment he needed until Cassandra could take over.
Today, Cassandra’s son is a happy and healthy 8 year old, and there’s a new addition to the family as well – 5 month-old daughter Colbie. When Cassandra realized she had an oversupply of breastmilk this time around, she knew she wanted to donate it to help other babies like her son.
“I love that I am able to pay it forward,” she said. “I know someone else made the selfless decision and donated milk for my son. It feels good to have the opportunity to do the same for someone else.”
It also feels good to have the whole family together, something that Cassandra’s family has been waiting for. Cassandra’s husband was activated for deployment to Afghanistan as soon as she found out she was pregnant. While he couldn’t be there in person, he did attend Colbie’s birth via Skype. The family had a quick visit in September, where he met 3 month-old Colbie for the first time, before his return earlier this month.
While Cassandra’s experience may seem unique, she has advice that can be helpful for many breastfeeding and pumping moms. She encourages moms to be patient, and to use the resources available to them. “Educate yourself. Ask questions. Talk with other nursing moms,” she said. “There isn’t one thing that I have questioned or experienced that someone else didn’t reassure me that they experienced too!”
For more information about donating milk, click here.
Producing a plentiful amount of breastmilk is nothing new to Mandy. After the birth of her oldest child, now 4, she never stopped lactating. “Even two years after I stopped pumping, I was still making milk,” she said. “I only stopped producing when I got pregnant again!”
When her second son, Jeremiah, was born, Mandy already had a lot of knowledge surrounding breastfeeding and breastmilk. Despite all her experience, round 2 of breastfeeding came with its own set of challenges. Jeremiah had acid reflux as a newborn and needed special modifications to his diet, which required Mandy to pump and feed him with a bottle. The reflux went away, but Jeremiah only wanted breastmilk from the bottle, so Mandy became an exclusive pumper.
A friend soon realized how much milk Mandy had stored in her freezer, and suggested she look into donating it to Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas. She completed the screening process and began dropping off her donations twice a week at her local depot, Arlington Green Oaks WIC Clinic. Now 19 months into her donor experience, she’s donated more than 41,000 ounces of breastmilk to medically fragile babies.
Mandy sees her abundance of breastmilk as a gift. “I believe that God has chosen me to be an overproducer so that I can bless so many fragile babies,” she said.
For the smallest of infants, one ounce of milk can provide up to three feedings. That means Mandy’s fed babies in need approximately 123,000 times.
“To know that I am feeding so many babies in addition to my own is a true blessing,” she said.
To learn more about donating milk, click here.
Talicia's second son, Ty, was stillborn at 29 weeks on December 8, 2015. After her unimaginable loss, Talicia helped other babies by donating her breastmilk. In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, we are sharing Talicia's story again, beautifully written in her own words.
My husband and I had discussed having a second baby for an entire year. My high-risk pregnancy with my first son was difficult and resulted in 5 months of bed rest. So, I expected the same the second time around. However, this pregnancy was normal, and even great, until the day it wasn't.
During my regular OB visit at 28 weeks, I joyfully listened to my growing baby's heartbeat. Everything was good. Three days later, I noticed Ty wasn’t moving. When the doctor confirmed his heart had stopped beating, I think for a moment, my own heart had stopped.
No one can explain the pain from losing a child. I had prepared for Ty’s arrival and organized his nursery. I had fallen in love with the little person growing inside me. Not being able to take Ty home was hard enough. I also had to deal with my body’s natural process of producing breastmilk.
I found out about Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas from a nurse at Medical Center of Arlington. A lactation consultant explained that I could donate my milk to help save the lives of other babies. Right then, I knew I wanted to become a donor. I knew I had made the right decision when a woman at church told me about a premature baby who wouldn’t have lived without the help of donors like me.
My experience with Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas has been wonderful. Everyone has been extremely kind and the application process was quick and easy. I am amazed by the organization and am proud to have donated alongside so many other bereaved women.
Pumping and donating my milk gave me something positive and productive to do with my time. I didn't want my milk to be yet another sad reminder of Ty's passing, but a way for someone else to bring their baby home.
For more information about bereaved milk donation, click here.
Many of our milk donors learn about Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas through friends and family, hospitals or online searches, but for some, all it takes is a simple car ride. That’s what happened when Nicole drove down Magnolia Avenue and our office caught her eye.
As a mom producing milk in excess of her daughter Ma’Kaila’s needs, Nicole knew MMBNT was a perfect place for her. She went through donor screening, a process she called “easy.” In the months that have followed, she has donated more than 500 ounces of breastmilk to feed fragile infants.
“It means a lot,” Nicole says of knowing she’s helping so many in need. “I’m able to help a mother who can’t breastfeed, and feed babies who need mother’s milk.”
While Nicole has an abundance of milk, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t faced her own challenges. Her busy, 7 days a week work schedule can make breastfeeding and pumping difficult. Living near a depot, as well as working near MMBNT, provides some convenience to her schedule. “I endure and persevere,” she said. Ma’Kaila is currently 10 months old, and Nicole hopes to continue nursing up to age 2.
Nicole has enjoyed her experience as a donor, and encourages others who are doing the same. “You are doing a good deed,” she said. “The families who are getting the milk will appreciate it.”
For more information about becoming a donor, click here.
They say that love is even sweeter the second time around. For Anjali from Frisco, Texas, this also rings true for donating breastmilk. After her first son, Prem, was born in November 2014, Anjali had a growing reserve of extra milk in her freezer and a fierce determination not to throw it away. Online research connected Anjali to Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas and her journey of helping other babies began.
Then in 2016, Anjali started donating breastmilk for the second time. Prem was almost 2 when brother Raj arrived early at 32.5 weeks on August 9, weighing only 2.5 pounds. “Raj’s premature birth came out of nowhere, especially because I had no concerning history or complications,” she said. Anjali was able to pump milk for Raj and it was a huge relief when he gained weight quickly and was discharged earlier than expected after only one month in the NICU.
For a long time, Raj only took one ounce per feeding, 8 ounces total each day. However, Anjali was pumping a lot more than Raj needed. Again, she wanted her excess milk to go to good use. She says, “The milk bank’s screening process was so easy and straightforward and I knew there were many babies in the NICU who could use it.”
Since Raj’s birth this past summer, Anjali has donated more than 700 ounces by loading up her cooler with frozen breastmilk and dropping it at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano, one of MMBNT’s 42 depots. Her milk is transported to MMBNT where it is thawed, pasteurized and poured into bottles for the fragile babies who need it most.
As a repeat donor, Anjali has donated a total of 2,164 ounces so far, potentially providing more than 6,400 feedings. She says, “I’m a strong believer in breastmilk and the benefits it provides, especially for premature infants like Raj. It’s a great feeling and such an honor that I am able to do this for other babies.”
For more information about becoming a donor, click here.
Just weeks into her experience as a milk donor, Susan is thrilled by the prospect of helping fragile babies. “I feel incredibly blessed to have an abundance of milk and really feel obligated to share with those in need,” she said.
After realizing she had more milk than her son Mark needed, she did a Google search about breastmilk donation and found Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas. She went through the donor screening process and recently dropped off her first donation at her local depot, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano. It was just the first of many trips she expects to make monthly.
Milk donation is not the only way Susan is planning to get involved at the milk bank. She is a home-based LuLaRoe clothing retailer, and each year she donates a portion of her sales to a cause she selects. This year, she’s chosen MMBNT.
“This is the most rewarding project I’ve done and I can’t wait to see what happens this year,” Susan said.
It’s an exciting time for Susan, and she’s developed a few tricks to help her along the way. She pumps and nurses at the same time, with Mark on one side and the pump on the other. It saves her time, and helps her feel less overwhelmed. She also encourages expecting moms to find a lactation consultant before their baby arrives so any breastfeeding problems that arise can be handled immediately.
Of course, support from family is also important to Susan. Her sister-in-law, Kim, has been a huge part of her experience, and she’s grateful for her help. The support she’s received has allowed her to give back to others in a way that is meaningful to her.
"I love babies and have great respect for motherhood," Susan said. "Being able to support other mothers by donating milk to babies who are in need is an absolute honor."
For more information about becoming a milk donor, click here.
Melissa’s oversupply of breastmilk created a huge surplus saved up in her freezer. Knowing that this milk could benefit fragile babies in need, she searched for a local milk bank and found The Gathering Place, the Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas depot in Miami, Florida. She connected with MMBNT through the depot and has already donated 2,000 ounces of breastmilk that her daughter, Viviana Grace, doesn’t need.
Viviana is healthy and thriving today, but she entered the world with complications. She stopped growing due to velamentous cord insertion, an issue with the placenta, and due to that and her breech presentation, she was born via emergency C-section at 37 weeks and 5 days. Melissa started breastfeeding her right away at the hospital. While Viviana had a good latch, she became cyanotic, or lacked oxygen, when she was nursed.
A swallow study determined that Viviana had a tracheoesophageal fistula, an abnormal connection between the windpipe and esophagus. She was emergency flown to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and at just 5 days old, she underwent surgery to remove the fistula.
“I knew I wanted to breastfeed her, so I pumped around the clock while she was in the NICU to make sure that I maintained my supply,” Melissa said.
After a successful surgery and two weeks in the NICU, Viviana finally went home. Melissa immediately resumed breastfeeding and says it’s done wonders for her daughter, who is now 6 months old. “I attribute her rapid recovery to the power of breastmilk and lots of love,” she said.
Donating breastmilk is Melissa’s way of helping others who start out with complications like Viviana did. To her, donating is “giving another baby the opportunity for improved health status, mental function and recovery in situations with early adversity.
“I’m a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, and I would have never appreciated how difficult it can be to be a parent without this experience,” Melissa said. “Life is full of risk and having a child makes you so acutely aware of everything that can go wrong. It has not been an easy road, but having faith in the power of love and the evidence base for breastfeeding and breastmilk has been a beacon of light providing direction and hope that we are doing the right thing.”
For more information about becoming a milk donor, click here.
Keilah first became familiar with donor milk after giving birth to her son, Jace. After being born at 36 weeks, he briefly received milk from Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas. Once she established a supply, Keilah calculated how much milk Jace took in a week versus how much she was producing.
“I quickly realized that storing up months and months of milk would take so much freezer space,” she said. “There is no way we could keep it all.”
That’s when Keilah decided to become a milk donor herself.
In the two months since she became a donor, Keilah has donated more than 1,700 ounces. She is able to drop off her milk directly to MMBNT during her lunch break at work, but if she needs to clear some space in her freezer on the weekend, she heads to her nearest depot.
“We’ve loved being able to share our milk,” Keilah said. “What a blessing it is to have something like this in Fort Worth!”
While Keilah helps others with her milk donations, she also has helpful insight when it comes to breastfeeding, pumping and finding a rhythm that works for both mom and baby. First and foremost, she emphasizes the importance of being flexible and patient.
She and Jace worked through latch issues for about 12 weeks, which involved lots of practice, trying a nipple shield and feeding him bottles of breastmilk as needed. Bottled breastmilk ended up having its own benefits – it eased the transition when Keilah started working again and Jace had to take a bottle, and it also allowed for special bonding time between Jace and his dad, as well as other family members who could feed him.
Additionally, Keilah recommends taking advice from many sources to determine the best method for you. Lactation consultants, doctors, and friends and family with breastfeeding experience all have valuable information that can help a mom along her breastfeeding journey.
“There is more than one approach to feeding your baby, and every mom, baby and family are different,” Keilah said.
For more information about Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas, click here.