By Raechel Hackney, RN, IBCLC
Families celebrate many milestones in their lives—anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, and other important achievements. Marking these occasions is an opportunity to take pride in one’s accomplishments as well as provide a time of reflection.
On Monday, March 14, we cheered as Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast reached donor ID number 10,000. While this marks a great milestone for us, we also recognize that every mother who has donated before this time and those who will be donating afterwards are unique, special, and deeply appreciated. Mostly, this number reflects the fact that many babies’ lives have been saved and countless other babies have been given the best start in life.
We reflect on how far Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast has come since volunteers first gathered around a dining room table in 2006 to discuss opening a milk bank in the Boston area. After years of planning, our milk bank assigned its first donor ID number in 2011.
Milk banking history
We also take pride in the history of milk banking in Boston. Over a century ago, the first modern milk bank in North America was founded in 1910 at the Boston Floating Hospital. Since that time, the number of milk banks in North America has fluctuated, affected by aggressive marketing of formula and concerns about viruses and infectious diseases in the 1980s. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) was formed in 1985 to support the existing milk banks. In 1989 HMBANA published its first Guidelines for the Operation of a Non-Profit Milk Bank, to establish the standardization of safety measures for donor human milk. Currently there are 31 milk banks accredited by HMBANA—28 in the United States and three in Canada.
Over the past eleven years, our donor screeners have had the privilege of getting to know so many wonderful and generous mothers. We now have many donors who are second- and third-time donors, and even one who has been a donor with her fourth baby! One of our volunteers designed a wonderful “milk flows” map to show how many states our donors come from and where the milk is being sent. We also grieve with mothers who are donating after a loss and remember their babies on our memorial quilt, which is displayed at the entrance of our office.
Milk donor families
We know that milk donation is a family affair, as we often get wonderful photos from donors as their toddlers help pack the milk. While we hear that husbands and partners lament that there’s no room left in the freezer for food, we also know that they take great pride in their partners’ ability to produce such an abundance of milk. We still wonder who packed the box of milk that included a pack of frozen fish.
We frequently hear from donors who tell us that their babies received donor milk, and that by later becoming milk donors themselves, it’s a way to pay back the kindness of others. We have many donors who are healthcare providers working in a NICU who understand firsthand the importance of donor milk. One of our local second-time donors asked that instead of birthday gifts, financial donations be made to the milk bank.
Celebrate milk donors, volunteers, healthcare providers
While becoming a milk donor takes a lot of time and effort, we are amazed that so many mothers are willing to go through the process and to collect extra milk for donation. We are grateful for the many volunteers who help out with myriad tasks every day. We are thankful to the healthcare providers who take the time to fill out the health forms for our donors, do the blood draws, or volunteer to operate our depots. We also recognize that milk donation may not always be the right choice for every mother, and while not every nursing mother may be able to donate, their role in supporting breastfeeding and in spreading the word about the need for donor human milk is every bit as important.
Reaching donor 10,000 took many times that number of people to get to that milestone. Every drop of milk, every effort to support milk banking, helps us meet our mission of providing donor milk to every baby in need.
Donor Intake Coordinator Raechel Hackney has been involved with Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast since its inception.