Born to Lactate

Yeah, they got milk. Just don't ask for cookies with it.

When your professional title is "lactation consultant," things are tough enough. But for Laraine Lockhart Borman, director of the Mother's Milk Bank in Denver, the names get worse.

"We've been called 'lactitions' and 'lactaters' -- every variation of those words," Lockhart Borman says. But there's one more title that really puts blood in her creamy complexion.

"'Dairy queens,'" she says. "That's what a lot of the staffers here at the hospital call us."

Best of the breast: Laraine Lockhart Borman runs the Mother's Milk Bank in Denver.
Jonathan Castner
Best of the breast: Laraine Lockhart Borman runs the Mother's Milk Bank in Denver.

The shelves of Lockhart Borman's five freezers are heavy with four-ounce jars of frozen breast milk, each one sporting a thick layer of fat. Sent from collection offices around the Front Range or via overnight mail from distant cities, the frozen jars end up inside Lockhart Borman's office in a HealthOne facility off 19th Street.

A Denver nonprofit, the Mother's Milk Bank collects and distributes breast milk to needy mothers and babies around the region. Her supply of donated milk is impressive; it's enough to make a humbled guernsey tuck its tail between its legs. "Fresh breast milk has a much higher sugar content, so it's very sweet," she says. "You'd say it's yummy if you like creamy things."

After arriving, the milk is thawed and flash-pasteurized, tested for bacteriological safety, then frozen again prior to distribution. Donor moms are screened for HIV 1 and 2, hepatitis B and C and other blood-borne contaminants before being accepted. Potential donors are also prohibited from taking certain medications, which could appear in their finished product.

"We had an East Indian woman who used a lot of curry in her food, and when you opened her milk, you could smell curry," says Lockhart Borman. "Visually, too, milk changes with people's diet. With people who have their gardens come in and have a lot of spinach and green vegetables, you see a lot of greener milk." She adds that studies have shown that babies of mothers who consume garlic and moderate amounts of alcohol want to nurse more frequently. "Babies prefer a little variety, if you will, in flavors."

On a table in the bank's modest milk-processing room is a homemaker-sized hot-water bath used for pasteurizing jars of milk. Another table holds a series of breast pumps awaiting delivery to future volunteers, who will use the pumps to express their milk at home. "It's much more convenient that way," Lockhart Borman says. "If we collected milk here, we'd have to have milking stations and have to herd the women in. Oh, sorry," she says, giggling over the dairy reference.

Donors, most of whom are nursing their own babies, make a serious commitment to a high production rate.

"Pumping gets to be a humorous thing," says Atsuko Ohtake, a doctor who donated milk for two years while she nursed her daughter. "You become enmeshed with the breast pump; you rely on it and take it everywhere."

After returning to her internal-medicine practice following the birth of her child, Ohtake found that juggling her patients, her baby and her milk-laden breasts was a tough task. "I would find myself sitting at my desk at lunchtime with the breast pump hooked up," she recalls. "I'd lean against the desk so I wouldn't have to use my hands and could make phone calls and work on the computer."

On a bike trip, she found herself pumping milk in a campground restroom, to the surprise of other women. "One woman thought I was using the pump to somehow enlarge my breasts," she remembers, "and another woman, who obviously had never had children, asked me if I was on dialysis."

Some women produce so much milk that it becomes a burden for them, Lockhart Borman says. "It takes them a very long time to get their supply down to a normal level. 'My husband says I'm a cow,' and 'I have enough milk to feed the football team' -- donors make those kinds of comments all the time."

One donor mom cut holes in one of her husband's T-shirts to allow her sore nipples time to air and heal. Once, while sending a box of iced milk to the bank, she noticed the UPS driver's face turn an unusually rich shade of red. After he left, she realized that she'd been talking to him in her customized attire.

Founded in 1984, the Mother's Milk Bank is the biggest of the nation's seven milk banks. It distributes about 10,000 ounces of milk per month to mothers in 25 states. At a cost of $2.50 per ounce, the fees are a primary source of funding for the bank. Most health-insurance providers cover the charge.

Milk is given out on a prescription basis to babies who are formula-intolerant or suffering from conditions that require breast milk's easy digestibility and natural antibiotic properties. (A small amount of the milk goes to adults undergoing cancer treatment, organ transplants and other health-draining medical procedures.)

Michelle Moedy, a Denver mom, relied on the bank's stash when her own milk production couldn't keep up with her premature twin daughters' needs. The pair were born nine weeks early, and Moedy credits breast milk with returning them to good health. "My children have beaten the odds," she says. "I'm so grateful to have the breast milk bank as an option for help."

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help