I am an overproducer which is a blessing and a curse. Has anyone had any experience donating breastmilk? What are the different types of milk donation programs and organizations?
There are couple ways to donate milk.
Informal or "direct" donation. This is by far the oldest way of providing milk to somebody else's child, although historically it was a wet nurse who directly breastfed, not handing somebody frozen milk. However, this is still done today. When I was nursing my daughter, another new mother had a double whammy: she had low production, and her child had a poor latch. A group of us provided our surplus until they were able to work out all the issues.
If you don't happen to know a nursing mother who needs extra, it may be possible to find one through the internet. MilkShare, for example, is a "connection point designed to give mothers who are unable to produce their own milk with some tools to explore private milk donation". Milk Match matches up donors and babies in need by zip code. (I found those in an article from 2008, so there may well be others by now; I mention them as examples, and have no experience with either site. Local LLL leaders or other nursing support may know of smaller local examples.)
Formal donation to a milk bank. Be aware that there are both non-profit and for-profit milk banks; think about which you would prefer to use. Many non-profit milk banks around the country are affiliated with Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA); they will accept, pasteurize, and sell donor milk to hospitals for use by pre-term or very ill infants. (The charge to patients/hospitals covers the pasteurization and overhead costs of the milk bank.) Alternatively, for-profit milk banks will process and fortify donor milk and sell it to hospitals for use by pre-term or very ill infants; the cost for patients appears to be higher, though. In both cases, the milk donor isn't compensated for their milk.
I'm biased towards the non-profit model, and have linked to resources that also lean that way. It just feels... nicer to me. That may not be an option depending on your geographic location or personal preference, though. Do what feels right for you — it's your milk :)
Whether you're donating directly or to a milk bank, you should be mindful about what you're putting in your own body. Most breastfeeding mothers are careful of their diet anyway, but when the milk will be used by a baby whose allergies you don't know or who may be dealing with other physical stresses (e.g. an infant in the NICU), be extra careful. Many milk banks have requirements for donors to take a blood test and not use nicotine or illegal drugs, for example. Informal donation is likely to have similar restrictions, although that depends on the family who wants the milk.
Side note: It's also possible to sell your milk yourself online, but customers are not limited to mothers buying breastmilk to feed babies. Some adults apparently like to drink it, too. Just mentioning it as a possibility: personally I'd much rather help an infant in need.
Additional resources for more reading and information:
- Becoming a Donor to a Human Milk Bank (La Leche League International article)
- Thinking of Donating Your Breastmilk? Read This First.
Depending on how old your child is, consider first the possibility that you may need that milk later (a cautionary tale).
My wife was a huge over-producer when we had our baby girl, to the point where a lot of the milk had to be expressed and simply thrown away somehow. We started looking into donating her breast milk, but meanwhile started freezing it in sterilised ice cube trays, then putting these cubes into containers in our chest freezer. We managed to save up several kgs of milk this way.
Our chest freezer is set to around -18 degrees celcius, and we had been assured by the nurses that the milk would store for up to six months at that kind of temperature.
However, while we were looking into how to donate this milk, my wife became ill, and her supply dropped right down (to the point where we couldn't adequately feed our girl straight from the breast anymore). The best advice we got from the nurses to help the supply come back was, even when it was feeling like we should just give up, keep on trying to feed our girl from the breast, and try to express at other times in the day with a pump. Not much ever came out, but the fact that her breasts kept getting this "demand" from both the pump and the baby would in time cause the supply to come back up to meet the demand.
While my wife was regaining her health and supply, the large amount of frozen-milk-cubes we'd built up in the freezer had suddenly become a godsend. During each attempted feed which only gave our girl a small amount of milk, I'd be warming up a few milk-cubes in a bottle sitting in warm water, which we'd give to her when her feed from her mum was complete. By the time her supply had come back in full, we were almost reaching the last cubes we had frozen and put away (very lucky timing).
So, it all worked out in the end. My wife's supply came back to match our girl's needs, and at 14 months old, she's still getting a morning breastfeed immediately after waking up each day, before getting solids for the other hours she's awake. But at the time, if we hadn't managed to put away our own milk, we would've had to look into getting milk from other people (or using formula as the supplement, which we didn't want to do).
As a side-note, if you go to do this, figure out how many millilitres are in each milk-cube on average. The cubes created by our ice cube trays turned out to be (on average) around 10 mls each, and knowing this made it easy to know how many cubes to warm up to feed our girl (e.g. need 30, 40, 50mls for a feed? We'd simply warm up 3, 4, or 5 cubes respectively).
Absolutely donate as well, but I'd recommend freezing some for yourself, just in case. It's unlikely that this will happen to you too, but it's nice to be prepared for unexpected eventualities. Of course, if you've already been breastfeeding your child for some time and you're still over-producing, I'll direct you to the answer from Erica for actual advice on donating. :)