Oklahoma’s Mother’s Milk Bank

Before Anne Darnell Gillingham had her daughter, Nellie, she had never really given much thought to breastfeeding. She always knew it was something she wanted to do, but never could have imagined it would be the only thing she could do. Nellie was born in June of 2008, with many rare and complex birth anomalies. She was flown to the OU Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City where she spent the first five weeks of her life in the NICU. Like many parents of NICU babies, Anne felt helpless. Until she met a “superstar” lactation consultant that proved to her she was anything but.

“She taught me the value of breast milk,” Anne said. “I give her an enormous amount of credit for being my biggest supporter while Nellie was in the NICU.”

The lactation consultant taught Anne all about the benefits breast milk can have for babies, especially for those born early or with health problems. She explained pumping and helped Anne get started so that Nellie could have the best nutrition possible.

“I became a fanatic about pumping my breast milk because I felt it was the only thing I could actively do to help my daughter,” Anne recalled. “I ended up with a deep freezer full of breast milk, much more than my daughter could ever need.”

On a return doctor’s visit to Oklahoma City, Anne ran into the same lactation consultant. She told her about her full supply and how she hated to just throw it away, but was surprised when the consultant told her that she didn’t have to. She introduced Anne to the practice of donating breast milk to a milk bank. At the time, Oklahoma didn’t have an organization, so Anne made her first donation to the Mother’s Milk Bank of North Texas. A short time later, Anne found out she was pregnant with her second child. And, by the time her son, Foster, was born in August of 2011, an Oklahoma Mother’s Milk Bank (OMMB) was in the works. Anne is now president of the OMMB board of directors and is the proud donor of almost 25 gallons of breast milk.

Today, the OMMB is a legally incorporated 501(c)(3) organization located in Oklahoma City. Anne says the bank is currently screening moms and will start processing and dispensing milk soon. She says that although the organization is growing steadily, the need far exceeds their supply.

“Oklahoma has one of the highest preterm birth and infant death rates in the nation,” Anne explained. “Human milk significantly reduces illnesses, complications and deaths among premature and critically ill babies. Unfortunately, many mothers of critically ill babies often cannot provide enough or any milk for their children. Currently Oklahoma babies may have to wait for an extended time (and potentially develop problems) before receiving milk from out-of-state milk banks.”

Anne hopes the OMMB can help alleviate that by providing Oklahoma mothers a way to make a difference in their state and the lives of their neighbors.

“The process for a mom to donate milk is very easy,” Anne said. “It starts with a telephone call to the OMMB. There is a very short telephone screening which takes place. After that, there is a longer questionnaire which the mom completes. There are also forms which need to be completed by the child’s pediatrician and the mom’s OBGYN. The OMMB will send a voucher to the mom so she can have her blood drawn (no cost to the mom). Then, the mom can either drop milk off at an established depot or she can request shipping materials from the OMMB. It is super easy.”

Anne says mothers choose to donate their breast milk for many reasons. Although, one of the most touching stories she has heard came from an OB nurse. While pregnant with her first child, the nurse learned that the baby had anomalies incompatible with life. Despite the diagnosis, she continued her pregnancy and delivered at 35 weeks, making the decision to express milk and donate it in her baby’s memory. She is now expecting a healthy baby and plans to donate again.

It’s stories like this that fuel Anne’s passion for breast milk donation. “It is an incredible feeling to know that you have provided a rare commodity to a helpless human life,” Anne said. “There are many, many potential blood donors in the world, but very few milk donors. We hope that through public outreach and education, we can change this. I would love it if every lactating mom would be a milk donor. It takes a little extra work and dedication, but it can change the life of a baby forever.”

If you would like to become a breast milk donor, contact the Oklahoma Mother’s Milk Bank at 405-297-LOVE (5683).

Categories: Little Ones