Donating Breast Milk, Saving Lives

Lucas County WIC serves as dropsite for milk donors

The benefits of breastfeeding have returned to the main stage over the past several decades. This sacred practice has once again been mainstreamed, and more women are choosing to breastfeed their babies. But what do you do with your extra supply of breast milk? Gloria Shortridge, RN and lactation consultant of more than 25 years, started a breast milk dropsite at the WIC clinic located in the Lucas County Health Department

Shortridge, along with lactation consultant Laura Mason, and their team, assist with a variety of services at the clinic, regardless of the recipient’s income. Prior to the onset of the pandemic in 2020, Shortridge attended a WIC conference in Columbus where she learned about the OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank. She returned to Toledo with a mission to start a dropsite, a place where mothers with extra milk supply could drop off donations.

Shortridge contacted OhioHealth and learned what was needed to begin. With the program getting approval from WIC and the Health Department, a freezer was purchased to store the milk. OhioHealth provided the boxes and coolers needed for shipping and donations began arriving a month later in January 2021. 

Bank it

The Lucas County dropsite has been pleasantly surprised by how many have donated their milk, whether it’s been one time or ongoing, but they are hoping for more. 

“We know there are still a lot of women dumping their extra milk, but it could be used to help others. We take donations of any amount,” Shortridge says.

Milk dropped off in Lucas County is stored in the freezer at -20 degrees and is shipped to Columbus to be pasteurized and prepared for distribution. Each box shipped contains coolers holding up to 25 lbs of breast milk. Shortridge and Mason are mailing at least 100 lbs per week. 

Christine Smith, with OhioHealth in Columbus, has been working to grow the OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank since they started processing milk in Ohio in 2005. 

“We describe it as, ‘Donor milk to a NICU baby is like a blood transfusion to a trauma patient,’” she says. “They need it for the best possible outcome.” 

NICU babies receive 95 percent of the donations. Premature babies do not only need the breast milk for nutrition but also the antibodies to fight off infections. Smith adds, “The milk is pasteurized and cultured. It has to have no growth of any bacteria before it can be distributed. No viruses. This is how we know there are no germs in the breast milk.” Breast milk also helps with a common but serious condition for preemies, Retinopathy, which can lead to blindness. 

How to get started

OhioHealth has a seamless registration process. They acknowledge that donating breast milk is a selfless act, We try to make it as easy for the donor as possible,” Smith says. “We know that being a mom is a lot of work. We recognize the fact that they are donating out of the goodness of their heart and taking the extra time to do this. They’re not getting paid to do this.” 

To begin, call OhioHealth for a phone screening to determine eligibility. If eligible, an extensive health questionnaire will be mailed or emailed, as well as consent forms to be completed by potential donor, her doctor and child’s pediatrician.

A blood test must be done, and St. Vincent’s Hospital covers the cost of phlebotomy services done in their lab. After approval, applicants receive a donor number. Donors can request help with supplies such as milk bags or labeling stickers from OhioHealth or the Lucas County dropsite. Donations can be delivered to the WIC office located at the Lucas County Health Department. Simply call ahead of time to make an appointment or show up, notifying the front desk you have a donation. If a donor does not live near a dropsite, OhioHealth can send the boxes and coolers needed for the donor to ship the milk themselves via FedE with shipping costs covered.

Personal experience

Nurse Stacy McCarthy knows the stress of having premature babies and long NICU admissions. Bearing witness to premature and sick babies benefitting from breast milk, while her twins were fighting their own battle in the NICU, McCarthy later decided to become a milk donor.  “I was producing more than I needed after my last pregnancy so I thought it would be a way of giving back. We saw first hand how much these babies need this milk.”  She has been donating for over six months. 

For moms unsure about donating, Stacy offers this encouragement: “If you could just think ‘what if this was my baby that needed this? ’ Seeing it from that side, and being in the NICU for a long time with our twins, we saw a lot of really sick babies who needed it.” 

Women interested in donating can call OhioHealth at 614-566-0630 or Lucas County WIC Clinic at 419-213-2124. They may also send an email to milkbank@ohiohealth.com for further information.