Grand County mom gives back by donating to Mothers’ Milk Bank
The experience of motherhood granted Grand County resident Elizabeth Fisher a new path to giving back to fellow moms.
When Fisher’s second daughter Freya was born, the newborn experienced rapid breathing issues. This separated the two for eight hours. Hospital staff asked Fisher if she’d like to give her daughter human donor milk if needed. Thankfully, Fisher was able to breastfeed her daughter once they reunited; the experience also inspired her to learn more about donating milk.
Over the past year, Fisher has donated over 85 gallons of excess milk to Mothers’ Milk Bank in Colorado. She hopes her experience will encourage moms to donate as well as inform families their babies can receive donor milk.
“I want my story to help educate other families about human donor milk so they’re aware they have choices,” said Fisher. “There is such a need for donor milk. Even throughout my journey I still have people say, ‘wait, you donate? That’s a thing?’”
Fisher said she didn’t know about donor milk until giving birth to Freya. After speaking to a friend who donated milk to Mothers’ Milk Bank, Fisher decided to help herself once she began pumping milk for Freya.
“Talking to other mothers and following these lactation consultants, (I learned) there’s such a shortage for human donor milk,” she said. “There are some hospitals where that’s not an option. That was really the driving factor behind me donating.”
At hospitals that lack supply of donor milk, formula is available. However, human milk provides proteins and nutrients that some studies show are better absorbed by the baby’s body.
“If their babies are in the NICU, or if they’re separated like I was, I want moms to have that choice, so they don’t have to pick formula,” Fisher said.
Part of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation, Mothers’ Milk Bank is one of the largest nonprofit milk banks in Colorado. The organization donates 80% to 90% of their milk to neonatal intensive care units at hospitals, where it is given to babies born prematurely or those experiencing complications.
“If you have excess milk, just to know these fragile NICU babies really do need the milk, that is just so rewarding to me,” said Fisher. “It’s so cool when (Mothers’ Milk Bank) emails me to say, ‘We sent your milk to all these different hospitals across the country.’”
A gift of donor milk can save babies’ lives, especially those in the NICU. One ounce of milk can feed a premature baby for an entire day.
The Milk Bank also has a program for families after their babies are out of the hospital, or for families who have adopted babies. Families are able to receive a certain amount of milk without a prescription once the baby is born, or they can purchase as much as they need with a doctor’s prescription.
“Just to be able to know that milk is going to places that it’s truly needed is really cool,” said Fisher. “I like the protocol that Mothers’ Milk Bank takes. I like that they pasteurize the milk. You have to go through certain labs to know that your milk is safe for these babies.”
Mothers who donate get their blood drawn and inform their physician of what over-the-counter medications or vitamins they take.
“It sounds complicated but it’s really easy,” Fisher said, adding that she was able to get all her labs done in Grand County. “(Mothers’ Milk Bank) is great to work with and they make the process really straightforward.”
Once they approved Fisher as a donor, her journey towards helping fellow parents began. Fisher said the Milk Bank sends her boxes with all the supplies she needs — ice, milk bags and more. They also pay for shipping.
Fisher plans to pump for Freya and keep donating until her daughter is two at least. Although her donation period is limited, Fisher is determined to keep helping moms long after.
“My donation journey has really inspired me. Now I’m enrolled in classes through the Healthy Children’s Project to get to my certified lactation counselor training,” said Fisher. “The lactation world has just taken over my life!”
She will finish her training by the end of the year to receive certification, then begin consultations with local moms.
“(Being a new mom) is a stressful time in general. After you have a baby, your life is kind of hectic,” said Fisher. “Being able to share my experiences with local moms and being able to help them the meet their goals of breastfeeding would be awesome.”
Fisher said her second daughter was born amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She couldn’t physically see many of the hospital staff, so she had to rely on her own experience of breastfeeding her first child.
“If I’d been a first-time mom, that situation would be very stressful, not having someone there to help me,” Fisher said. “A lot of people think (breastfeeding) is just second nature. But it can be really difficult; kids can have tongue-ties or anything else that affects latching.”
For mothers who have challenges breastfeeding, exclusively pumping may be the best option for them, but “it is difficult and time-consuming,” explained Fisher. This is especially true for Grand County moms, where there aren’t as many lactation resources.
“Whether exclusively pumping is your choice, or you were thrown into the boat, I just don’t think people have a lot of knowledge about it,” she said. “(I thought), you know what, I’m good at this! I should get the … training so I can help local moms. I’m fortunate that I enrolled in this course.”
Fisher is excited to begin her professional route in lactation, after her personal journey of pumping for her daughter ends.
“I would like (to use) my certification to help people virtually in the county or do home visits. I think that it would be really beneficial for people. Right after you have a baby, you don’t want to be driving around to go find someone to help,” said Fisher.
She also plans to team up with lactation consultant Joanne DeLorm at Granby’s Pregnancy Resource Connection to learn from her.
“Joanne is well-versed with breastfeeding and I’m well-versed in pumping,” Fisher said. “So, I feel if we could dual educate ourselves, that would be cool.”
Fisher’s ultimate goal is to open up her own lactation business, where she can teach moms both about breastfeeding and pumping. This will give them personal confidence in their journey of motherhood. Fisher also hopes she can inspire others. Whether people pursue a lactation counselor certification or donate their extra milk, there are many ways to give back.
“You never know who is going to be motivated and feel like, ‘Wow, I can do this. This is just a normal person in a small town in Colorado,’” Fisher said. “But if you put your mind to something, you can accomplish it.”
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