For some gestational carriers, their surrogacy journey in Boston, San Francisco, New York, or elsewhere around the world doesn’t end once they give birth. In addition to continuing to grow their relationship with their intended parents (now parents!) and their new baby, some surrogates will go on to pump and ship breast milk to their intended parents for their new baby’s nourishment.
The decision to pump and ship breast milk to your intended parents after birth is one that’s made jointly during various stages of your journey. Surrogates are not required to pump and ship breast milk, however many like to do so.
You may have questions about the process of pumping and shipping breast milk, how to approach the topic with your intended parents, what supplies you might need, and more. The guide below will answer your questions, as well as provide a list of supplies needed, and instructions on how to ship breast milk.
What supplies are needed to ship breast milk?
First, the surrogate mother will need a breast pump. This can be a pump that she used from her own pregnancies or a new one. Supplies can be purchased at any big box store or at large online retailers.
Items you’ll need for each shipment of breast milk*:
- Milk storage bags
- Styrofoam cooler
- Packing tape
- Shipping box (large enough to fit your cooler)
- Dry ice
How do you ship breast milk?
Shipping breast milk may sound a little overwhelming, but it’s actually not difficult, and once you get into a routine you’ll see it’s relatively easy. Like any project, setting time aside to complete the task will help keep it manageable.
This step-by-step guide to shipping breast milk breaks the process down into easy steps to follow. Be sure to have all of the supplies ready!
- Place all of your pumped milk into the freezer in breast milk storage bags. Storing it between cookie sheets enables it to freeze flat, making packing easier. When filling the bags with milk, be sure to leave some room for the milk to expand as it freezes (about 6 oz per bag).
- Once the milk is frozen, layer frozen bags of milk in a single layer in the bottom of the cooler.
- Continue layering the frozen bags of milk, packing the cooler as tightly as possible. the less empty space, the colder the milk will stay.
- Be sure to leave room in the cooler for the dry ice. In a 22 quart cooler, you can place about 26-34 bags of milk. When all of the milk is packed, cover the breast milk with a newspaper.
- Place dry ice in a paper bag and place it on top of a newspaper. Cover dry ice with another layer of paper. Be careful with dry ice, it should be enclosed at all times and not loose in the cooler.
- Place the entire cooler into a shipping box. For a 22-qt. cooler, a 16″x16″x15″ box works well.
- Tape box shut. Write ‘PERISHABLE’ or ‘FROZEN’ on all 4 sides as well as the top of the box. Call your shipping facility prior to arriving to ship your package to understand their guidelines for shipping packages with dry ice.
- Ship the box via UPS or FedEx. You’ll have to provide your IP’s shipping information. Ship the package using PRIORITY OVERNIGHT to ensure your IPs receive it the following afternoon.
One surrogate suggests mailing on a Monday or Tuesday so that the delivery day is during the week and you don’t have to worry about a weekend delivery.
Why do surrogate mothers pump and ship breast milk?
The decision to feed the baby breast milk is one that is up to the intended parents and decided upon with the surrogate during the surrogacy journey. While feeding a baby breast milk is not a requirement for a healthy baby, intended parents like having the option to give the baby breast milk.
There are a few reasons surrogate mothers decide to pump and ship breast milk to their intended parents and their new baby. First, breast milk is filled with lots of beneficial nutrients for the baby. Many surrogate mothers breastfed their own babies, and believe there are health benefits that breast milk can provide, and they’d like their IPs’ baby to have the option of this nutrition.
Pumping breast milk can also provide health benefits to the surrogate during postpartum, which can be an emotional time. Surrogates shared that they were going to pump their breast milk no matter what, so they were happy that their intended parents wanted it for their baby.
Is pumping and shipping breast milk difficult?
If you’ve breastfed and pumped with your own children, pumping and shipping breast milk should not feel difficult, but it can be time consuming. Experienced surrogates said that with preparation it’s much easier and they would absolutely do it again for their intended parents.
Sticking to a schedule is the most important part, even for those middle-of-the-night pumps. One surrogate kept a cooler on her nightstand and, when she’d wake up in the middle of the night to pump, she’d put the milk into the cooler. When her husband woke up early for work, he’d put it in the fridge for her.
When it comes to shipping breast milk, if you’re prepared with the right supplies, the process will be easier for you. One surrogate would let her IPs know the shipping costs beforehand and they would direct deposit the money into her bank account. Another surrogate’s intended parents set up a shipping account for her that she could use for supplies and shipping and she was reimbursed. Communication is key: speak with your intended parents about the process and the supplies you’ll need and the costs so that everyone is on the same page.
Circle employee and experienced surrogate Heather shared, “Pumping and shipping breast milk is a labor of love. I spent a great deal of time every day pumping, sanitizing and preparing the milk for freezing.” Giving yourself enough time each time you need to prep for shipping can help ensure you have a more positive experience.
When should surrogates discuss pumping breast milk with their intended parents?
Some intended parents and their surrogate mothers have the conversation about pumping and shipping breast milk very early in their relationship, sometimes even before they have completed their carrier agreement. Other surrogates and parents talk about breast milk further into their journey and relationship.
One of our experienced surrogates said, “I think approaching the subject candidly is the best way to go about it. If your IPs have not brought up the conversation to you, you can mention the pumping clause in your contract and ask if they had thought about whether or not they would like you to pump. It’s important to note that some surrogates only pump while in the hospital to provide colostrum, and others pump long term for their IPS. There are many options to fit your specific situation.”
One Circle Surrogate shared with us that she and her intended parents discussed pumping when they were filling out their birth plan at the 20-week visit, then again in the hospital at delivery.
If you’re an intended parent and you go into your journey wishing for your surrogate to pump and ship breast milk for your baby, you should let your Program Coordination team know this early on, as they can help match you with a surrogate who is willing to do this.
If you’re a surrogate and you have decided with your IPs that you will be pumping for them, be sure to have a breast pump ready for when the time comes.
Does a surrogate need additional nutrition if she’s pumping breast milk for her intended parents?
Similar to if the surrogate was breastfeeding her own baby, pumping breast milk may require the surrogate to eat a little bit more—between 300 and 400 calories a day. These additional calories will enable the surrogate to keep her energy up. According to the Mayo Clinic, a great way to get these extra calories is to look for nutrient-rich food choices, such as whole-grain bread with peanut butter, a piece of fruit such as a banana or apple, and 8 ounces of yogurt.
What advice do experienced surrogates have for women considering pumping breast milk for their intended parents?
We asked some of our rockstar surrogates who have pumped and shipped breast milk for their intended parents if they had any advice for women considering pumping for their surrobabies. Here’s what they had to say:
- Join a support group. There are so many pumping support groups on Facebook that can help you prepare for the process, as well as help you understand what to expect once you begin. And don’t be afraid to ask questions!
- Understand that pumping is a commitment. Pumping and shipping breast milk can be time consuming. Not only will you be spending time actually pumping, but also washing (the pump), storing (the milk) and shipping. Each step takes time, so it’s important to plan for this ahead of time to ensure you can make the time commitment. Pumping for your surrobaby is important, but if it’s getting in the way of taking care of yourself and your family, you may need to reconsider. One surrogate shared, “I found pumping to be much demanding than actually being pregnant!”
- Be prepared before your delivery. Make sure you have a pump that you like, do your research on how to ship breast milk and shipping costs, and have all of the supplies you need ready. Also, speak with your intended parents and have a loose plan in place for pumping and shipping.
- Speak with the experts. Many surrogates suggested speaking with a lactation consultant, especially if you didn’t pump for your own children. A lactation consultant can walk you through the process, answer any of your questions, provide support and manage your concerns, as well as helping you develop a plan for pumping. The consultant can also make sure you are using the correct size flanges which can make or break you pumping.
- Be kind to yourself. One surrogate shared these words of wisdom: “It’s ok not to pump…and don’t feel guilty or defeated if you don’t produce as much. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t let the hormones take over and make you feel poorly for doing something so wonderful and difficult.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!
Additional tips include asking doctor’s offices if they have coolers you can use to ship (one surrogate gets them for free from her doctor), and another said investing in a deep freezer helped her store large amounts of breast milk (and only the breast milk).
Heather’s advice to a surrogate considering pumping and shipping breast milk is this: “I would say pumping is a very involved endeavor. Not only are you taking the time to pump at specific intervals, but you are also sanitizing your pump pieces, bottles, and scheduling your day around when you need to pump. You also can experience the same complications you would during breastfeeding so it’s important to take steps to avoid mastitis, stay hydrated and make sure you are getting enough caloric intake to support milk production. I would estimate I spent around 50 hours a week towards pumping breast milk. It was hard and challenging at times but worth it to help my IPs with their baby and also the NICU babies that benefited after I was done providing breast milk to my IPs.”
What if your intended parents don’t want you to pump for them?
Your intended parents may not choose to have you pump breast milk for them—and that’s okay! If this happens, you can still pump and donate your breastmilk to a local milk bank. Some surrogates will pump breast milk for their surrogate babies while they are still local or in the United States (if international) but then will not continue to pump and ship.
The decision to pump and ship breast milk for your surrobaby is one to be made with your intended parents. Together, you will come up with a plan. The earlier you have a plan in place, the more time you will have to prepare by having the right equipment and researching the process and shipping costs.
If at any time you have questions about pumping and shipping breastmilk, reach out to your social worker at Circle. We have worked with many surrogates who have done this for their parents not once, but some have done it 2 and 3 times!
If you have questions about becoming a surrogate, email us! Our surrogate intake team are all experienced surrogates who are happy to share their experiences with you!