Monday, August 6, 2012

The Mothers' Milk Bank of Austin: How You Can Save the Lives of Sick and Premature Infants.

If you've been to my little corner of the internet before, you likely are aware that I'm a big breastfeeding advocate. I, myself, breastfed Ava for 27 months - despite an under-supply, a dairy-free year, and Ava's numerous food intolerances. And? I miss it all the time.

Because of my feelings on breastfeeding, and the amazing benefits of breast milk, I was delighted when the Mothers' Milk Bank of Austin reached out and invited me to come and take a tour of their amazing lab and facility. I consider myself quite knowledgeable about the act of breastfeeding and all that it entails, but I was surprised to learn so much about milk banks, and - in particular - the disparaging shortage of donor milk and the immense need for it!

The first thing I learned - and the one that really stuck with me - is that Austin's Milk Bank is one of only twelve in North America, ten of which are in the United States. What's more, the Austin location actually is one of only two that analyze the nutritional content of donor milk and label it to best decide which babies need what. That way, the sickest babies and the smallest preemies get the higher-calorie milk that they need to grow, whereas those who are beginning to thrive do not need as specialized of milk.

Also? I was under the mistake impression that the milk bank served more than just sick babies. In my misguided head, I believed that mothers that were unable to breastfeed for one reason or another were able to get donated milk. That's just not the case. The milk that is donated goes to feed sick and premature infants only, and unfortunately, the babies in need of donor milk far outnumber the amount of donors readily available.

If you remember from two-and-a-half years ago (I know a few of you have been reading that long aside from my mom), I attempted to contact the milk bank regarding my own milk, but was unable to donate because I was taking medications for PPD. While I was sad about not being to donate, knowing that the milk is given to babies who are, in some cases, severely ill made it clearer to me why it was important that the milk not have any medications seep into it. Hopefully next time I'll be able to donate my excess milk!

Aside from educating us about the Mothers' Milk Bank of Austin's mission and the population that it serves, we also were taken on a thorough tour of the lab, and treated to an inside look at the pasteurization process. As we all know, human milk can transmit a number of infectious diseases, and so the donors and the milk both undergo an intense screening and pasteurization process in order to ensure the safety and quality of the milk donations. 

Here's a bit of how they do that:
-First, potential donors undergo a screening tool, similar to one that blood donors give, over the phone. If they "pass", so to speak, they then are required to take a blood test to check for infectious diseases that can be passed through milk (HIV, Hepatitis, etc.), as well as get confirmation from both their physician and their child's pediatrician (to make sure that their baby is not in need of the extra milk) in order to become donors. Initial donations are at a minimum of 100 oz (the milk bank takes on the expense of the aforementioned screenings, so the commitment is so the cost is a good investment). After that, donors can bring in donations of any size.

-Then, once the milk is brought in, it heads to the lab:

 In here, staff and volunteers (who scrub in and are dressed like surgeons!) pour thawed milk into flasks and analyze the samples for fat, protein and lactose content. Then, the milk is poured into BPA-free bottles to undergo pasteurization to kill potentially harmful viruses and bacteria. Though heating the milk can damage certain immunoglobins, the milk retains about 70% of its healthful and life-saving properties - a significant amount to any preemie or sick baby!

The milk is then stored in a series of deep freezers, with nutritional content labeled for ease of distribution.

All of the milk distributed is by prescription, with over 82 hospitals and 56 outpatients served last year! If those numbers aren't clear, in the thirteen years that the Mothers' Milk Bank of Austin has been open, they have helped to save the lives of nearly 13,000 babies! That's about 1,000 babies yearly whose lives have been touched by those willing to share their milk!

If you're in the area - or in or nearby an area with a donation center - please consider donating milk to a milk bank! If you're still undecided, or want to show your support of breastfeeding women and parents of preemies and sick infants, below is a list of events the Mothers' Milk Bank of Austin is putting on for World Breastfeeding Month this month! I'd love to see any of you out there!

Upcoming Events:

ROCK-A-BYE, BABY! Join us for a rockin’ good time with Austin music treasure, Elizabeth McQueen on Wednesday, August 8th at Central Market (on 38th & Lamar) from 7-9 p.m.! This breastfeeding and milk banking awareness concert, hosted by the Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin, will feature music, fun and prizes. This is a FREE family-friendly event!

A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES! Want to learn more about Donor Milk? Join us Tuesday, August 14th at the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse from 7:00- 9:00pm for the Austin premiere of Donor Milk: The Documentary. To purchase tickets visit

BREAST FRIENDS! Join us on Wednesday, August 15th from 6-7:30 p.m. at the MMBA office as we launch our brand new breastfeeding support group, The Breast Connection, which will provide breastfeeding moms a comfortable and compassionate place to meet and connect with other moms. See our events website page for more details!

PEEK-A-BOO! Come take a peek—the week of August 20th we will be hosting daily “Milk & Cookies” tours of our state-of-the-art processing lab at the Milk Bank. We want to share first-hand with our community how donor milk is safely pasteurized for the premature and ill babies we serve. Please
contact for dates and times.

SHOP FOR OUR CAUSE! What is better than a night out shopping with friends? How about supporting your favorite non-profit at the same time? Come out to Ten Thousand Villages (a fair trade retailer located on South Congress) on Tuesday, August 28th from 5-9 p.m. and shop for unique gifts and have a glass of wine with us! A percentage of the evening’s sales will be donated to the Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin. 

If you're unable to make it to an event but are interested in donating milk or having a speaker from Mothers' Milk Bank of Austin, please reach out to them - they are lovely to work with and have embarked on such a great and admirable mission! 

1 comment:

  1. How Awesome! I would love to tour. I can never get more than an ounce at a time when pumping but I would love to donate my milk. I actually was just talking to Josh about talking to the local hospital about donating. They have a milk bank but Im not sure how it works. Great blog just in time for world breastfeeding week! :)

    Oh. P.S. "next time"?!?! More babies! Yay! I thought you guys had decided on only one. Maybe I'm mistaking you with another momma...but either way. I'm glad to hear you are thinking about more babes :)


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