Should I donate breastmilk to Haiti?
January 30, 2010 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Should I donate breastmilk to Haiti?

I'm the mother of a 15-month-old who breastfeeds at night and in the morning and takes ~2 ounces of expressed breastmilk at daycare M-Th. I pump ~8 ounces once during the day. F-Su he breastfeeds during the day once, if at all. I have an ample supply, without a doubt.

In terms of other nutrition for the baby, he eats solid food like a champ and also will drink cow's milk.

However, I have over 200 ounces of expressed breastmilk in my deep freezer. They date back to late October. They're in 5 ounce breastmilk-specific baggies. My freezer's almost bursting at the seams right now.

I only use the frozen stuff to make 2 2.5 ounce bottles for Monday and Tuesday daycare. I MAY need to go on a few business trips this year and his dad will need some frozen milk to put him down to bed, although I'm sure that he would go down to bed with cow's milk just as easily.

So what's stopping me from figuring out how to get this milk to Haiti, where apparently neo-natal babies need it?

Well, there seems to be some debate about if breastmilk is actually needed. Also, I'm concerned about the organizations running the breastmilk donations. I really get annoyed with boob nazis that make mothers feel like failures and that breastfeeding has a causal relationship with all sorts of positive outcomes, while I know that these claims are often invalidated when one takes socioeconomic status into account.

Also, this is my baby's milk. I have this weird attachment to it.

What would you do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total)
Don't do it.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:35 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Take a look at this article from yesterday about this...
The international Emergency Nutrition Network has asked one group, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, to retract a press release this week that issued an “urgent call” for breast milk for orphaned and premature infants in Haiti, saying the donations contradict best practices for babies in emergencies.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:36 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jezebel covered this yesterday - apparently "don't do it" is the answer.

For Haiti or for local donation:
It appears that for people that weren't intending to donate milk, there are quite a few challenges.

I'd imagine that you didn't keep detailed records beyond the date pumped. This milk bank says that you need to have not consumed alcohol for 12 hours, had minimal coffee intake, etc.

That same milk bank also says that you can't have traveled much, can't be a vegan, need to get blood tested regularly, need to have 100 oz. ready to go...

So while it sounds doable if you start from scratch as a milk donor, I'd guess that the average mother wouldn't have kept records to document if she may have had a heavy coffee day.
posted by k8t at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2010

The real issue with donating much of anything material that doesn't come in massive bulk is summed up here. Aid with a short shelf life and a very specific target demographic is unlikely to make it and the distribution effort may hold up other types of aid.

In a life or death emergency, the best can easily be the enemy of the good.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:06 AM on January 30, 2010

No, don't. Send money instead, and donate your breastmilk to a local milk bank.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:06 PM on January 30, 2010

It would be a lot like donating organic produce to Haiti. Yes, these kids would be better off having breast milk rather than the soybean slurry they're being given. They might get fewer sniffles later in their lives, have statistically better outcomes if they're premature, etc. Breast milk _is_ great. But..

A) You're putting something into the supply chain that costs more to deliver/preserve than it's worth and B) there are people living in tents, without much to eat, dying of gangrene while they wonder which of their relatives made it who need help more.

Give money to people who are stuck making the really awful choices about who does and doesn't get help.
posted by paanta at 12:46 PM on January 30, 2010

I commend you, and I can understand where you're coming from. I have no money to donate, and I've been wondering if there is anything else I can do to help the people of Haiti. If I had a freezer full of breast milk I'd be right there in your shoes.

I don't think though that donating your breast milk will be a good idea. It will have to stay frozen to stay fresh, and then the person using it will have to warm it up. Since both of those things take equipment and electricity I think it may make your gift logistically hard to implement. It will be hard (and probably expensive) for whoever you donate to to keep it frozen while they transport it, and then when it gets to Haiti they will have to find a place to keep it frozen. Then who ever they give the milk to will have to find a way to safely prepare the milk. It seems that the work involved negates most of the value of the gift.

If you still want to donate your milk, I think you should look into local breastfeeding leagues. They will probably be able to tell you if you qualify to donate to local charities.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:17 PM on January 30, 2010

It would be a lot like donating organic produce to Haiti. Yes, these kids would be better off having breast milk rather than the soybean slurry they're being given. They might get fewer sniffles later in their lives, have statistically better outcomes if they're premature, etc.

The benefit of breastfeeding under emergency conditions is a lot more dramatic; it does not need to be mixed with water, and it does not require sterilization of equipment. So those who advocate breastfeeding in conditions like these are not the "boob nazis" overly focused on tiny differences in outcome; they're worried about things like cholera from water-mixed formula or from water-washed bottles.

But that goal is probably best served by supporting the NGO's that encourage breastfeeding and/or distribute read-to-feed formula and single-use bottles.
posted by palliser at 2:50 PM on January 30, 2010

It's kind of you to consider it, but donated human milk, blood, etc., must be rigidly controlled. Have a bake sale or find another way to donate cash.
posted by theora55 at 4:38 PM on January 30, 2010

As George W. Bush told the country: if you want to help Haiti, don't send goods, just send cash. We don't know what resources are needed most; the aid workers do. They need money to do whatever they have to do.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:41 PM on January 30, 2010

If you want to put your freezer stash to good use, you can contact the HMBANA about donating it to them (but I find that their rules are so strict as to make it practically impossible to fulfill their requirements in retrospect). Or you can make a local donation to someone who needs it, through MilkShare. The emotional attachment is totally normal by the way :)
posted by Joh at 11:02 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

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