SAN MARCOS — Since giving birth to her son two months ago, Emily Krudner of Julian has produced more breast milk than her baby can take, filling her freezer with bags of frozen milk.
She knows it’s the luck of the draw, as many new parents struggle with producing sufficient milk for their babies.
After learning that she could donate this milk, Krudner decided to make the drive from Julian to TrueCare in San Marcos on Saturday to give around 600 ounces of her frozen breast milk at the University of California Health Milk Bank’s milk drive.
“When I started producing, I produced probably enough for twins. My freezer started filling up, and I didn’t know what to do with it,” Krudner said. “There’s a little bit of guilt because I produce so much, and I know some people don’t produce any … it’s been really nice to have some place for my milk to go.”
Krudner was one of several donors from all over San Diego County donating their bags of frozen breast milk to the UC Health Milk Bank this weekend. Once at the bank, the milk is packed into coolers and distributed to newborns in neonatal intensive care units and families unable to produce their own milk.
The drive, part of a larger Health Fair organized by TrueCare, was held in honor of National Breastfeeding Month in August and World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated from Aug. 1 to 7. The event also comes amid a national infant formula shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues. The need has left many parents desperate to find sufficient nutrition for their young children.
UC Health Milk Bank received around 7,200 ounces of milk at the drive— equivalent to 56 and a half gallons, triple the amount raised at the same event last year, according to TrueCare spokeswoman Michele Baker. The donations from that single day make up over one-third of the bank’s monthly donation goal.
“Due to the recent baby formula shortage, these generous donations by moms will significantly help to increase milk reserves for high-risk infants,” Baker said.
Several donors decided to give their extra milk to UC Health after seeing their babies go into the newborn intensive care unit, or NICU, where human breast milk is especially important for high-risk newborns.
After suffering from preeclampsia earlier this year, mother Stephanie Martinez said her baby spent the first three months of her life in the NICU. Now four months old, her baby is at home and healthy, and Martinez has been producing far more milk than she needed, at some points pumping up to 10 bags of milk daily.
On Saturday, she could donate over 500 bags of frozen milk she had stored or around 4,000 ounces.
“It makes me feel good. Watching all those babies in the NICU was really hard and traumatizing. At least I know I’m saving some babies and helping out some babies,” Martinez said.
Lactation experts emphasize that donating milk is no small feat, as it often requires hours of pumping and storing milk and transporting it to donation sites.
“The mothers that come here don’t care if they have to stand on their head and crawl. They want to do this because it matters to them because they want to help,” said Mary Sammer, vice president of nutrition services at the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) office.
WIC offers multiple services related to lactation, including connecting families to formula and human milk, offering breastfeeding management training for parents, informing them of their right to pump at their place of work, and finding options for paid family leave.
Kim Speckhahn, a lactation consultant with TrueCare WIC and Health Centers, explained that many breastfeeding parents do not have the support they need and often feel alone.
“There’s so much pressure, and so moms have this incredible pressure to succeed, and then the supports aren’t there,” Speckhahn said. “Then you have the other portion of society who has not had a good experience with breastfeeding. There’s a lot of polarization around infant feeding. Here at WIC, it’s about supporting families in meeting their desires. A lot of time, breastfeeding and formula are used in tandem.”
Among the clients at WIC, the majority state an intention to breastfeed during their pregnancy, and then many switch to using formula when the baby reaches around six weeks, she added.
Health Fair attendees could also obtain free diapers and food, donate blood, and connect to resources at WIC and TrueCare.
Those interested in donating or buying milk from the UC Health Milk Bank can find more information at https://uchealth.service-now.com/csp or by calling 858-249-MILK (6455).