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National Breastfeeding Month: the importance of breast milk donations, how to donate during the pandemic

"Now's the time to really encourage the breast milk for the babies because it does protect those babies."

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The month of August is National Breastfeeding Month, and despite the pandemic, local hospitals still encourage mothers who are able to produce breast milk to help donate if they can to the Mother's Milk Bank

Laurie Beck is the lactation coordinator for Mom's Place at Driscoll Children's Hospital, who explained that DCH works closely with the Mother's Milk Bank in Austin by being a local drop-off site. 

How to donate:  

If a mother is interested in donating her milk, she'll need to contact the Milk Bank, either online or by phone. She'll be screened to see if she meets the qualifications to be a candidate, will participate in another phone interview, she'll then be sent information to complete lab work (this should be of no cost to the mother), and will complete another online interview. Once completely approved, she'll be given an ID number and staff at Driscoll Children's can receive her milk, which is placed in a separate freezer. 

"When I have a full freezer, which is about 2,000 ounces of breast milk, we will call the milk bank and they’ll send somebody to pick it up or I’ll take it up to Austin," Beck explained. "Once it gets to Austin, that milk is tested again, it’s pasteurized using the Holder Pasteurization method, and what they're finding is that the Holder Pasteurization method does kill viruses and bacteria, so when hospitals, which is a standard of care for NICUs to use donor milk, when we receive that milk it’s a sterile product. So the milk was tested before it ever leaves the milk bank. It’s a wonderful gift, a mother’s gift from their heart, they don't get paid for their services."

As far as the number of donors, Beck shared some great news. For all of 2019, they had 20 local donors sign up. So far in 2020, they've had 20 donors sign up, and DCH has been able to collect a total of 18,000 ounces of donor milk from the community that's then been taken to Austin. 

Credit: Laurie Beck, DCH

Can you donate your breast milk if you have COVID-19?

Beck explained that if you are a mother with COVID-19, yes you can still donate your breast milk.  

"Being COVID-19 positive is not contraindicated for breastfeeding, but sometimes if our moms are sick or have low-milk supply they will rely on that donor milk," said Beck. "The process for the Milk Bank is they do ask if mom was positive, she can still donate, she would just hold her milk while she’s being quarantined for the two weeks or while she’s sick, and then they can get that milk because it will be pasteurized and kill the virus." 

Can you breastfeed if you have COVID-19?

"One thing that I think is important to realize because it’s very scary for them, being pregnant right now, but COVID-19 is not contraindicated to breastfeeding. Breast milk has – it’s a living organism, it has stem cells, it’s got the antibodies from all the germs that’s in her body, so now is a really – if we’re really going to use breast milk now’s the time to really encourage the breast milk for the babies because it does protect those babies." 

Beck ensured that a lactation specialist can help these mothers through the process. 

"If a mom is sick and then you factor in stress, her milk - that does not help her milk supply, but we will work with that mother. The baby can still have mother’s milk, we just teach mom to wear a mask, and good hand sanitizing and sanitizing pump parts. We’ll help her out with all of that."

Beck says it's also important to not encourage "informal sharing of breast milk," especially now. She says they typically see this among sisters, friends, or neighbors who may have extra milk in their freezers. 

“We have to be careful with at. The milk isn’t tested, mom hasn’t been tested, people mean well, but we have to be careful with that.”

Locally, Driscoll Children's is an example of a drop-off site for breast milk donations. For mothers in the Coastal Bend who don't live near a drop-off site, but still want to donate, Beck explained that the Mother's Milk Bank in Austin will send them the cooler and FedEx label to have their frozen milk sent to them. All the mother needs to do is reach out if it's something she's interested in, and will then undergo the interview and screening process described above. 

To learn more about the donation process and how to become a donor, click here. 

To learn more about Mom's Place at Driscoll Children's Hospital and the services they provide, click here.  

For the latest updates on coronavirus in the Coastal Bend, click here.
For the latest updates on Hurricane Hanna, click here.

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