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You Can Donate Breast Milk to Moms Affected by Hurricane Harvey — but Should You?

Jenn is perhaps best known as the author of the popular parenting blog Breed ‘Em and Weep (2005-2012). She’s written for many magazines, newspapers and websites, including Brain, Child Magazine, Literary Mama, and The Boston Globe. Jenn’...

Hurricane Harvey left nursing mothers scrambling to replace stored breast milk — but is donating a good idea?

Can you donate your breast milk to flood victims in Texas? Technically, yes. But this is not a DIY operation, so listen up.

You may have seen the story of a Missouri mom, Danielle Palmer, who has gone viral for sending 1,040 ounces of her breast milk — that's almost 8 gallons, 346 feedings for an infant — to flood victims in need. A pretty epic way to pay it forward, right?

Well, Naomi Bar-Yam, the president of the board of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (nope, I didn't know about this organization either, but am glad I do now) fears that — although well-intentioned — Palmer's homegrown approach might not have been the safest. For one thing, human milk can carry infections (even serious ones, such as HIV and syphilis), and only a milk bank can process donations safely.

Palmer's gesture was a beautiful one, but safe breast milk donation isn't simple. At milk banks, the screening process is rigorous — as it should be, considering the vulnerability of the intended milk consumers. First, potential milk donors must have their blood tested before a doctor will approve their donations; then, all breast milk must be tested in full for any pathogens. After that, the milk is pasteurized and then retested according to Bar-Yam.

So even if you're healthy, don't just unload a freezer full of your breast milk and put it in the mail. Find a milk bank near you and let them walk you through the process.

More: How to Donate Diapers to Hurricane Harvey Victims & Their Families

Even then, your milk might not end up where you'd hoped, Bar-Yam explained. “We are assuring that Texas has the milk that it needs, and if their (milk) doesn’t make it to Texas, (it) will make it to other fragile premature babies,” she said.

But how did Palmer manage to send so much breast milk to Texas families?

“The first month of [son Truett’s] life, he was unable to eat,” Palmer told Today. “All the milk I was pumping was going into the freezer.”

Palmer's son's speech therapist, Nicole Edwin, reached out to Palmer to inquire about her milk supply. Edwin — a member of Guiding Star Mid-Missouri, a support group for women — was looking to send donations to Texas post-Harvey.

“I was excited,” Palmer said. “I had this large stash and knew I could share that with someone.”

If you too are excited about donating breast milk, just make sure you get the facts first — from a legit milk bank. And if the testing process proves too tricky, rest assured there are many other ways to help families affected by Hurricane Harvey.

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