Saturday, March 22, 2014

Milk Donation: A Personal Story

A couple of days ago, a woman reached out on Facebook to a group I'm a part of. She recently gave birth by c-section and was doing okay until she came down with a MRSA infection in her incision. Her OB tried hard to find a treatment that would be compatible with breastfeeding, but it finally came down to her having to stop breastfeeding for a week so she could take some powerful antibiotics to knock out the infection. She made a plea to our group for help getting her donor milk to feed her baby for the week.

I had been pumping and storing milk here and there and had 24 ounces in my freezer that was on the edge of needing to be thrown away. Milk is good in the freezer for about 4 to 6 months, depending on how cold the freezer is, and most of the milk was pumped in December and January. It is now mid-March. I told her, if she wanted, I could ship her the 24 ounces. Better her son drinks it than I throw it away!! And my son doesn't want or need it. That amount should be enough for a day, or most of a day, and several other women local to her also immediately offered what they had. Another friend offered to go pick up all the milk that was offered and bring it to this woman's house. I hope she was able to gather enough donated milk to cover her for the week. I wish I had more to give. I did try to pump some more yesterday but was only able to produce 2 additional ounces with such short notice.

I'm 500 miles away, so I had to ship my milk to her. I've shipped milk once before, when my second son was a baby, across country from California to Florida. The key to shipping milk is that you get it there as quickly as possible, within 24 hours of leaving the freezer, so even if it defrosts on the way, it can still be used at its destination as long as it's been kept cold. Now, you can go all out and use dry ice to really keep it frozen, much they way steaks are shipped, but if you don't have access to dry ice or it's too much hassle, it can be done with stuff you have at home.

Milk donation is an informal arrangement, but you can make certain agreements with your recipient if you want. It's common courtesy for the recipient to ship back any supplies that are reusable (cooler, ice pack) or to pay for anything consumable you need to purchase (if you want them to, such as storage bags and the cost of shipping), but you can make that arrangement with your donee however you see fit and depending on the amount you're shipping, whether it's a recurring agreement (i.e., you'll send milk every month or whatever), and what your and their financial situation is like.

For packing and shipping, you can purchase an inexpensive foam cooler (about $6 - usually either in the freezer section or beverage section of your grocery store) and a few blue-ice packs, like what you'd use to keep a lunch cold. If you'll be doing this regularly, you may want to invest in something sturdier and more insulated, but for a one-time donation, a cheap one will do just fine. Make sure everything is frozen solid and pack it up just when you're ready to leave for the Post Office or UPS store or wherever you're shipping it from. I am shipping such a small amount this time that I didn't want to buy a big 28-gallon cooler, so I found a smaller insulated bag ($4, meant for keeping beer or soda cans cold) to use instead. As long as it closes up all the way around, it should be fine. Remember that most cooler bags are designed to keep food cold for 18 to 24 hours with ice packs, and since the milk is starting out frozen, it should still be cold when it arrives the next day. I also stuck the cooler bag in the freezer for an hour or so before I packed everything so the air inside the bag would start out cold. Cold cold cold!

 Put the ice packs at the bottom, sides, and top of the cooler and the milk in the middle. Remember heat transfer will be highest at the outside, while the inner-most parts will stay coldest; you want the ice packs to melt before the milk! Fill in any empty space with newspaper for additional insulation - you want as little air as possible to minimize heat transfer. Find a box that the cooler fits inside with just a little room around it. Pack the space between the cooler and the box with more newspaper.

Then, take it to the shipping location and ship it OVERNIGHT, not two-day. It needs to get there as fast as possible. Make sure the recipient knows it's coming so she can bring it inside and get it on ice again as soon as possible. When I shipped my milk to Florida, the UPS guy didn't ring her bell and it sat on her front porch for several hours in the Florida sun. The milk was still cold and usable, but the milk at the outside of the pile was defrosted and needed to be used immediately. She was able to refreeze the rest, thankfully. I felt terrible that she didn't know right away that it had been delivered!

My attempt this time around was a bit of an improvisation, because despite visiting three stores with my kids in tow the day before sending the milk, I couldn't find appropriate ice packs (?!?!), so I didn't have time to freeze any additional ones before I shipped the milk. I did have ice in the freezer, so I packed that in Ziploc bags along with the two ice packs I did find, and I prayed that it would stay cold enough. I'd rather overdo it with the ice than have the milk spoil on the way!

I shipped it UPS overnight. They have options for end-of-day, 10:30a.m., and 8:00a.m. I wanted to make sure it got there by the 24-hour mark, but the 8:00a.m. delivery was very expensive, so I chose the 10:30. You can also do USPS next day, which is generally less pricey than UPS or FedEx, but I also wanted them to pack the box securely for me, and it was easier for me to use the UPS Store than the Post Office.

I let my recipient know that the package was on its way and gave her the tracking number so she can keep a lookout for it. After delivery, I nervously messaged her on Facebook to find out if it had arrived safely, and she responded that it had. What a relief!

I'm so happy that my milk found a good home. I was unhappy about having to throw it away, but despite my intent when he was born, I was not good about offering a bottle to Baby Y often, and he won't drink from one. Donating milk is a wonderful way to help another family out, and it was very fulfilling for me to be able to do that again. Of course, donating to someone local, where you just have to drive the milk over to them or have them come pick it up, is much more convenient and better for long-term donation agreements or one-time bulk donations, but if you know someone in need who is far away, it's great to be able to ship milk.

Have you ever donated milk or nursed someone else's baby? Have you been the recipient of donor milk? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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