Three years ago, filmmaker Kevin West and his wife experienced the heartbreak of losing their baby in the eighth month of pregnancy. After the tragic loss, West and his wife learned about milk banking, and his wife became a milk donor to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). “Your body doesn’t realize when you’ve lost a baby,” West explained, “so you continue to produce milk.”
The experience of donating milk helped the couple to heal after their loss. “Donating milk was a positive experience for us, and part of our grieving process. It was a way to honor our daughter through helping others and a big part of the healing process for us,” said West.
The couple’s experience with milk banking led West to create a feature-length documentary on milk banking with Jarred King called Donor Milk: The Documentary. West and King interviewed over 50 people for the film, including many medical professionals.
“As a male I had no concept about milk banking,” West explained, “but I realized that lots of women don’t have an understanding of the importance of human milk either. For NICU babies, human milk makes their chance of living much greater. Many of the donor milk recipients we interviewed said that their babies wouldn’t be alive without donor milk.”
With the release of Donor Milk, the filmmakers hope to raise awareness about milk banking and the importance of human milk. “I had no idea that milk banks existed, and can’t think of many people who know about them. There’s absolutely no awareness,” said West.
King, who became a father while making the film, added, “milk banking needs to be understood in the hospital setting by doctors and nurses who can educate their patients. In the school setting and in classrooms why can’t the benefits of breast milk be part of discussions on sex education and parenting?”
The filmmakers also hope the film will help to dispel misinformation and concerns about the safety of milk banking. “People want to know is it clean? How is it regulated?” said King.
“One of surprises for me about milk banking,” said West, “is the tremendous amount of care that goes into processing, screening and handling. HMBANA reports that there have been zero reports of adverse effects in babies who’ve received donor milk since its inception in 1985, which is incredible.”
King believes that raising awareness about milk banking is the key to making donor milk more accessible to moms and babies in the US. “People should know that milk banks exist. If you want one in your community, lobby! There’s no reason every major community shouldn’t have access to milk banking,” said King. “Getting personal stories and demystifying the process will help.”
“There are so many benefits to breast milk,” added West. “As a country we need to do a better job supporting moms with breastfeeding.”
Donor Milk is premiering tonight, March 1, in Houston, and a multi-city tour is in the works (no official dates yet). West and King and can be purchased on DVD. You can learn more on their website or Facebook page.
For more information on Human Milk Banking in the US or becoming a donor, please visit www.hmbana.org. Milk donation is an incredible gift, so we hope that this film can help raise awareness about its life-saving benefits.
Have you ever donated milk? What was your experience?