To the selfless woman who donated her milk to my child—

I never thought I'd need you. I didn't even know you existed, really. But you became a lifeline for me and, more importantly, my baby girl.

I'll never forget my conversation with the pediatrician during my second night in the hospital after giving birth. She said my baby's jaundice was causing her already-low birthweight to dip, and we'd have to supplement to get her the proper nutrition while my milk was still coming in. My heart sank, and I was overwhelmed by guilt.

Why wasn't I able to keep my baby growing inside of me for longer? Why wasn't my colostrum enough for her? Every fiber of my being wanted desperately to provide for her—why couldn't I make that happen?

I had set out to breastfeed for a year, and it appeared I wasn't even going to make it 24 hours before needing formula. Then the pediatrician offered something else: Donor milk.

I had no idea this was an option. But as I would learn, donor breast milk is increasingly used in hospitals and NICUs across the country. According to The Washington Post, the number of NICUs using donor breast milk doubled from 22% in 2011 to nearly 40% in 2015, and nearly 75% of intensive Level 3 and 4 NICUs use it.

For my little peanut, this was welcome news. And for the first few days of her life, we supplemented what I could produce for my baby with your milk that was provided to the hospital.

So here's to you, Donor Milk Moms. Thank you for providing for my daughter at a time when I couldn't.

I can't say that your gift didn't come with mixed emotions. As relieved and grateful as I was for the donor milk, I was also sad and jealous. After growing my daughter inside of me for 37 weeks, I wanted my baby to taste my milk. I wanted to be the one who helped her fight the jaundice, who helped her gain weight and grow strong. I wanted to hold her in my arms while she nursed at my breast, not watch from a distance as she suckled the end of a tube taped to my husband's pinky finger.

I had to process my emotions and quickly make peace with these challenges and changes. And I took every opportunity to hook myself up to what would soon be my best friend, the pump, so that she'd soon be able to nurse just from me.

As you know, Donor Milk Moms, breast milk has downright miraculous properties. Donor milk can help baby's immune system fight bacteria and viruses while providing the best nutrition for them to develop and grow. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends donor human milk over formula for preterm infants when a mother's own milk is unavailable.

The donor milk (and a fun miniature tanning bed) turned around my girl's weight gain and jaundice issues, and soon we were discharged from the hospital. Initially I feared how we'd be able to feed her and keep her weight up at home, but fortunately, there was a milk bank at another nearby hospital and we were able to purchase a few bottles of screened, pasteurized donor milk to bridge the time until my own was ready.

Thank you, Donor Milk Moms, for making those early days of supplementation a little easier on me. I'll never know your name or see your face, but I'm profoundly grateful for your life-giving gift. Maybe your own baby is done breastfeeding, and you decided to keep pumping. Maybe you have an oversupply and are sharing your surplus. Or maybe you never got a chance to nurse your baby. No matter the reason, I appreciate your sacrifice.

I know that I'm lucky. Not every hospital has donor milk as an option and not every metro area has a certified milk bank like we do in the Twin Cities. But the availability is growing—the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) has accredited 27 milk banks across the U.S. and Canada. In the past year, the non-profit engaged more than 6,800 Donor Milk Moms and distributed more than 3.77 million ounces of donated milk.

Because of you, Donor Milk Moms, and the life-saving services of milk banks, we were able to help my daughter start off with breastmilk.

Fast-forward 12 months—and she still takes breast milk. We've met our one-year breastfeeding goal and my daughter still nurses with me, but no longer takes bottles at home or at daycare. I'm still pumping to keep my supply up, so maybe I'll be able to "pay it forward" and be a Donor Milk Mom, too.

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