A large donation was made last week by 28-year-old Jill Youse, of Columbia, to a bank in South Africa. The donation wasn’t cash or a check, but about 1,000 ounces of breast milk. Youse made the donation to a milk bank in Durban, South Africa, as part of a nonprofit program that she started to provide breast milk to orphans with HIV/AIDS.
Youse gave birth to daughter Estella nine months ago and produced more than enough milk for her newborn.
“I thought, ‘What was I going to do with all of this?’” she said.
Youse did research and found iThemba Lethu, a nonprofit organization that cares for abandoned and orphaned children and infants with HIV/AIDS and donated her breast milk to their milk bank.
Youse’s nearly eight gallons of breast milk was the first shipment to an underprivileged overseas community from the United States.
“I wanted to donate to children who needed it the most,” she said.
With the help of iThemba Lethu, Youse created the nonprofit International Breast Milk Project to promote the concept in the United States.
“I figured that like every good idea out there, somebody has thought of it before so surely there are other people out there like me,” she said.
Initially, Youse said she had no real desire to breast-feed Estella, but her husband, Jeremy, a fourth-year medical student at the time, explained the importance and health benefits of breast-feeding.
“He put pamphlets all over the house,” she said. He also encouraged her to go to a class to learn about breast-feeding from lactation consultant Patt Stewart.
“There were 10 women in the class, then Jeremy,” she said. “If he wouldn’t have originally encouraged me to breast-feed, I don’t know that I would have. He felt very firmly about it.”
According to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and the National Women’s Health Information Center’s Web site, the most nutritious food to feed an infant is breast milk since it contains antibodies that help infants fight diseases and infections, while also helping to protect them from harmful viruses and bacteria.
With this information, Youse felt even more strongly about making her donation to South African malnourished babies in need of help.
“You can have $2 to your name and a freezer full of breast milk and make just as much of an impact as someone with $1 million,” she said. “With this, anybody can make a difference.”
Her e-mail inbox is now flooded with women who want to donate their extra breast milk to the program. Youse makes it easy and recommends that any woman interested in donating her milk need only fill out a donor screening form. This gets sent to the clinic in South Africa for approval. A lactation coordinator will talk to the parents and request a copy of their medical blood work from the birth.
Youse said the U.S. also has milk banks.
“It’s a very worthy thing to do because there are kids that need it here too,” she said.
“My dream is to be able to duplicate this milk bank in other areas in Africa,” Youse said. “I hope it raises awareness of the needs of the children in South Africa.”