MISSOULA - Mothers’ Milk Bank of Montana has been seeing seen ups and downs in the number of donors walking through the door in recent months.
Some weeks their freezer is full, other weeks they’re forced to turn away hospitals due to the lack of breast milk.
For one Montana mom, the milk bank will always hold a special place in her heart after it saved her newborn from dangerous formula.
“I got the magical news that I was pregnant on Mother’s Day,” said Laurie Little Dog.
Earning the title of “mom” comes with a lot of responsibility. As a mother of two, Little Dog told MTN News that life can get a little chaotic.
“Oh yeah, you’re trying to run your own life and household, and yet the baby is really the one in control,” joked Little Dog.
The Bozeman mom gave birth to a girl, Wilder Elle-Louise, on Dec. 22. While at the hospital, feeding became an issue almost immediately.
“Unfortunately, I had gestational diabetes,” said Little Dog. “So, when she was born, her sugar dropped and they took her to the NICU and my milk hadn't come in yet.
"They had to supplement the breast milk with a formula called Alimentum," she conitnued.
But Little Dog later learned Alimentum was being recalled. The next formula she tried once taking Wilder home, EleCare, is on recall too.
“I was in a panic,” said Little Dog, prompting mothers who use formula to double check their recall status.
With no formula and no breast milk of her own, Little Dog picked up the phone.
“I reached out to Mother’s Milk Bank of Montana, and I was just like, ‘I'm in a bind.’ Do I continue giving her the recalled formula knowing that it's toxic? I mean it was really scary.”
At the other end of the line, donated milk was already being processed, packaged, and sent out the door.
“But it literally was the last 29 bottles in our freezer,” explained director of operations Linsey Rude.
“It was a choice of ‘if a hospital calls tomorrow, we're going to have to say no, and here's a baby who really desperately needs it," Rude continued.
Mothers' Milk Bank of Montana serves 13 hospitals across five states.
So, when their freezers run low, moms are sent scrambling to the next closest bank in Oregon, Colorado, or even New Mexico.
“We're way far behind the ball here and it makes me nervous,” said Rude.
Donations have dipped, and that makes the act of donating all the more meaningful.
“I’ve pumped before and pumping milk sucks,” said Rude. “It's hard, it's time-consuming, it's labor-intensive.”
It’s a labor of love that only a mom understands — a mom like Amanda Mayer, "it was an easy way to make room in our freezer and help somebody else."
Mayer hit the jackpot with her firstborn, Lucas James. She says he’s an easy baby, and her freezer is always full of milk.
But she knows that’s not the case for every mom, so she donates.
Her milk is sent from her home in Butte to the milk bank in Missoula, then offered to someone like Little Dog in Bozeman.
“They don’t pay you, but I feel like knowing your milk’s not getting wasted is payment enough,” said Mayer.
She told MTN News that she often thinks of how she’d feel if she needed breast milk. Donating her surplus only makes sense.
It doesn't matter that donors like Mayer may never meet recipients like Little Dog because unspoken bonds, especially those of mothers, are just as strong.
“Having another mom come in and say ‘I got you, I got your back. You use my milk, relax, you do you and I'll take care of your baby,’ I mean, that's basically what we're doing,” explained Rude.
“I guess there’s a huge formula recall, so I think that when I realized all that was happening, it was a pretty easy decision to donate,” said Mayer.
From Little Dog, “It really helped Wilder out, and I believe it saved her life.”
You can milk or monetary donations at Mothers' Milk Bank of Montana.