Across the United States and Canada, there are a dozen human milk banks, which collect breast milk and send it to seriously ill infants.
The Triangle is home to one of them. The Mothers' Milk Bank at WakeMed processes between 20,000 to 30,000 ounces of breast milk each month from donors in the Triangle and beyond. The milk goes to newborns at local neonatal intensive care units and is shipped elsewhere too.
Maria Sealey, a mom of two in Zebulon and nurse practitioner, is among the local donors. And I wanted to share her story to demonstrate just how easy it is to donate your own breast milk to the milk bank and help some very sick little babies.
"Anybody who's got extra milk, it's a great thing you can do for others," she tells me.
Sealey had considered donating breast milk after learning about the need in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. She got the information to donate at the time, but then her son, three months old at the time, quit nursing.
Sealey had planned on nursing him for a year, so she pumped her breast milk and gave it to him in a bottle. She didn't donate because she was afraid she wouldn't have enough for her own son. It turns out she had plenty. When he turned a year, she still had enough breast milk to last another 90 days after she quit pumping.
"That made me much more comfortable with getting rid of my freezer stash the second time around," she tells me. "Although, I knew it wasn't likely going to Haiti after my daughter was born, I still wanted to help the premies and other babies that needed breast milk."
Through her medical training, Sealey knew that babies in the NICU do much better with breast milk than with formula, which is harder for them to digest.
So now Sealey pumps for her daughter, now almost 10 months old, and for babies who need it, storing it in plastic bags made specifically for human milk and freezing it.
So far, she's donated breast milk three times, calling it "Operation Milk Drop" on Facebook where she encourages friends to donate too.
"It is ... super easy to do for local moms," she said. "I drive up to the door of the hospital and one of the folks from the milk bank meets me at my car with a cooler, and they have given me breast milk freezer bags to replace the ones I have used each time."
For details about how to donate and help, go to the WakeMed Mothers' Milk Bank website. Frozen milk must be less than six months old and milk pumped after a child's first birthday cannot be donated as the protein and fat content changes when the older a baby gets.
Watch the video to hear more from Sealey.
Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.