My Story as a Breastmilk Donor

In today’s Kudos to You series post, we’re featuring new mom, Emory University OB anesthesiologist (that’s right, she administers epidurals ladies!), breast milk donor, and total inspiration, Hee Won Lee. After seeing her post photos of her car trunk full of frozen breastmilk bags (yes, you read that right), we initially sat down with her to learn more about her journey as a breastmilk donor. Over 45 minutes and so many mom truths later, we were crushing hard. Read on below to learn more about how she juggles work, motherhood, pumping, and breast milk donation.

Getting bags ready for donation

My extra freezer for breast milk

The milk I make in a 16-hour shift


Ok. You’re a doctor, a new mom (who’s still feeding your own 9-month-old), and a breast milk donor. Let’s talk logistics, what does a typical day look like for you?

 4 a.m.
My day starts pretty early. I usually wake up at 4. My boobs are leaking so I immediately have to pump. I’ll pump about 5-7 minutes and make about 400 ml (12 ounces) which I will freeze.
4:30 a.m.
Breakfast. This is also when I put away all the bottle and pump parts from the day before that were drying overnight, and get my bag ready for work.
5 a.m.
Workout then shower.
6 a.m.
Post workout pump before work for another 5-7 minutes. I’ll generally make about 150 ml (4.5 ounces). This milk gets put in a bottle that will be given to my daughter, June, when she gets up at 7 a.m. We like to have about 2 big mason jars of milk available for her at any time in the refrigerator.
6:15 a.m.
Leave for work.

Between 8-9 a.m.

First pumping session at work. I’m fortunate that I do have downtime in between cases and my own office, so I have a place and (generally) time to pump.
Between 11 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Second pumping session at work.
Between 1-2 p.m.
Third pumping session at work.
3:30 p.m.
If I’m not on call (my once-a-week overnight 16 hour call or once-a-month 24 hour call), I usually leave work around 3:30 p.m.
3:45 p.m.
Arrive home and, because of Covid, immediately disinfect myself.
4 p.m.
Feed my daughter.
4:15 - 5:45 p.m.

Playtime with my daughter.

5:45/6 p.m.

 Family dinner.

6:30 p.m.

Another feeding for my daughter.

8 p.m.

 Pumping session for around 7 minutes.

8:30 p.m.

 Bed! (Ok ok, I’m old but I also get up super early!)


Where do you pump and what pumps are you using?

I thought about getting a portable pump, but my work is pretty physical, and a few people told me they could be pretty loud, so it just didn’t seem right for me. Plus, I actually do have considerable down time in between cases at work, and my own office, so there's a private area that I can go to for pumping. At home I have the Spectra S1 pump, which, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have bought because it requires you to sit and be plugged to a wall. That one was paid for through my insurance, however. For work, I bought a used Spectra S2 pump which is battery powered. We don’t have many plugs in our office, and I’ve found it perfect for work. 

What motivated you to become a breastmilk donor?

The way I got into donating was, to be completely honest, out of sheer selfishness. We just didn’t have the freezer space anymore.

We actually had to buy a whole new freezer because I was making so much milk.

That wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I’m a little older and all of my friends were telling me that your supply tanks when you go back to work. So I was really afraid and started to hoard every drop of milk.

Ultimately, though, if anything it was too much supply that I experienced from the start. I think it was genetics. I started producing colostrum around 28 weeks. Immediately postpartum I had pretty bad engorgement and started producing a lot of milk. I had so much milk that my kid would start choking when I fed her.

I didn’t actually pump until about two weeks before I started work again. I use the Haakaa pump a lot -- I would feed her on one side and collect milk with the Haakaa on the other. Just that alone built up a stash enough to fill a full freezer.

How did you get started becoming a donor? 

At first I reached out to the lactation services at the hospital I delivered, Piedmont Hospital, and they weren’t taking any new donors since they were full. I then called a few other hospitals and everyone was full. Ultimately I found the Mother’s Milk bank of Austin through a simple google search. I live in Atlanta, but they serve the whole South East area. Your milk gets flown into Austin, TX and they distribute it throughout the region to those who need it most -- mostly to NICU babies.

What was the application process like?

The process was basically an online application form with a health screening. Then I did a 15 minute phone interview about my schedule, my medical history, my birth history and my medications. They paid for me to get tested for HIV and the hepatitis panel, so I had to go to an outside lab for that. Once that screening came back negative, and they confirmed that all of my information was correct with my OBGYN and pediatrician offices, I was approved to be a donor, given a donor ID number, and told all the places I could drop off milk. Luckily I lived pretty close to one of the drop off areas, a hospital that is 10 minutes from my house. 

When I’m ready to donate, basically I will call this hospital, let them know that I have milk to donate, and ask whether they need any. Since everything is measured in grocery bags, they’ll tell me how many grocery bags I should bring over -- or whether their freezer is full and they can’t accommodate me this week. We make an appointment and I always confirm with them the morning of.

I’ve probably donated 7 or 8 times now -- about 40 grocery bags worth of frozen milk at this point.

garbage bags full of breast milk
trunk full of breast milk

In addition to donating through the Mother’s Milk bank of Austin, I’ve also given breastmilk to some friends of mine from work who delivered around the same time I did but had more trouble making milk. One of my friends connected me to a woman who has an adopted child about the same age as my child, and I’ve also given her about 10 grocery bags worth of milk over the last month.

I’m feeding my baby, and also helping to feed other people’s babies. It makes me feel good.

What should moms be aware of when considering getting donated breast milk?

Breastmilk can transfer communicable diseases like HIV and hepatitis, so women have to be extremely careful and do their research. If you aren’t going through a legitimate source, like a breastmilk bank, I don’t advise getting breast milk unless the person giving you that breast milk gives you their official donor ID number and discloses their past medical history to you.The last thing you want to do is harm your baby when you are trying to help them. Lastly, I think there’s a pretty dark market for breastmilk, and what I’ve heard can be pretty scary. There’s no market price for breast milk so I don’t recommend buying it. That’s why it was so important for me to go through legitimate channels and donate my milk for free.

What has surprised you most about your experience?

I think the most surprising thing was how difficult breastfeeding is.

Breastfeeding is more difficult than labor. It’s more difficult than being pregnant.

I remember thinking at the beginning, immediately postpartum, that this is the most miserable thing I have ever done. My husband would be like ‘how can I help?’ And I’d be like.... ‘Well, you can grow boobs’. 

After about 3 months, however, it got a lot easier, and now that June is starting to wean a bit, it makes me sad to think our journey will one day be over.

What is it, do you think, that makes breastfeeding so difficult? 

When you are in your fresh postpartum state, you’re in pain, you’re sleep deprived, and all of a sudden you’re completely responsible for this life. Then your boobs are engorged, and you don’t know if this is normal or not. You wonder: Is something wrong? Do I have mastitis? As a first time mom you just don’t know what is normal. Everyone is trying to get out of the hospital as fast as possible, and there’s maybe one lactation consultant for the whole floor. Then you go home, and, especially in this Covid environment, you don’t have the help you need. Our postpartum doula, for example, had to cancel on us because my husband and I are both healthcare workers and presented too much of a risk to her other clients. It’s just so hard.

I read Baby Wise and What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and I took a breastfeeding class on Zoom, but there’s so much conflicting advice. Do you do 15 minutes on both sides or 30 minutes on one side? How will that impact my baby’s foremilk vs. hindmilk consumption? Is that why my baby is colicky, or why their poop is different? You have all these doubts and unknowns, plus, physically it’s hard. You’re constantly hungry. You’re constantly needing to feed and you’re not getting any sleep.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten as a new mom?

My coworkers threw me a surprise shower and all of the women who were already moms wrote me one piece of advice, sealed it in an envelope, and told me not to open the envelopes until one week postpartum. When I finally did open them, it was some of the most tender advice that I’ve ever gotten. And there are actually two that really stood out to me: 

The first: No matter how hard it is or how hard it gets, you have to remember these are the best of times. I think that’s really true. When I was postpartum, my husband had to go back to work after three days -- because, you know, America hates children and women. I remember thinking, wow this is so hard. Now when I look back on it, however, I cherish all that bonding time and I love those moments and times that I had with her. 

The second: As a new mom, you have to demonstrate self love to yourself before you can take care of a baby. It’s like being on a plane. Put your own oxygen mask on before you take care of anyone else. And I think that’s really true. 

It was maybe the first or second week postpartum, and I found myself in a moment where I was like ‘did I brush my teeth today?’ It was 7 p.m. and I remember thinking that this was not sustainable. That, even if it meant that my daughter would be crying for 10 minutes, I had to prioritize taking a shower, taking care of myself, and having a proper lunch. Not just standing and eating 4 Cliff bars at once...

Women are too hard on themselves and this country does not make it easy. Being a mom, no matter where you are in the world, is hard, but it’s especially hard in America with our lack of healthcare, lack of time, lack of help, etc. Now with Covid it’s even harder. The more you can demonstrate taking care of yourself, the more your child will appreciate that you love yourself. I think that’s the best gift you can give them because they learn that you not only love yourself, you also respect yourself. I’ve been trying to really live by that.


Did you connect with Heewon’s story? If you’ve donated or used donated breastmilk, we’d love to hear about your experience. Send us an email at



This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Kudos.

About the author

Hee Won Lee is an Emory University anesthesiologist at the Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. She specializes in obstetrics anesthesiology, empowering birthing people to make educated choices in their birth plans and deliver safely in the labor and delivery unit. In her spare time, Hee Won likes to eat, shower, and sleep!

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