Shipping milk can be costly, but willingness to receive shipped milk also helps to ensure that you will have enough for you little one. Some families prefer to only ship larger quantities of milk (our family will only ship milk quantities of 300 ounces or more- about 10 days worth for our child). There are various ways of shipping milk and all can have good outcomes if the milk is packaged well.
The following details general guidelines for shipping milk. Please check with your shipping carrier for more specific shipping information.
- First, know what you will use for your basic supplies. You may wish to have your donor locate a dry ice carrier, though milk may stay frozen without dry ice if it has been stored in a deep freezer and is packaged well for shipping. You will need to have newspaper and/or brown paper bags, plastic bags, and a sturdy cooler. Some families will use a camping-style cooler, while others will use a thick Styrofoam cooler (2-3" minimum thickness) surrounded by a sturdy cardboard box. Our experience tells us that the most reliable way to ensure that milk will arrive safely is to use a Coleman type of cooler (this can be returned to the donating mom via ground shipping after).
- If using dry ice, you will need about 5-9 lbs. of dry ice for a coolers worth of milk. Base your decision on how much ice to use by the quantity of milk that is being sent, how the milk was previously frozen, and by the shipping method that will be used. For example, you can use less ice if you are shipping overnight instead of 2nd day and if you are shipping milk that was previously deep frozen (stored at a very low temp) or you might even decide to forgoe ice altogether if the milk was very deeply frozen..
- If handling ice, wear gloves!!! Break up the dry ice up into a few chunks with a hammer or something hard (not your hands!) and put ½ of it in a layer in the bottom of the cooler. You don’t have the break the ice into TOO small of pieces – nothing smaller than a silver dollar. Donating moms may need to save their receipt to be reimbursed for the cost of ice. Put several layers of newspaper over the ice.
- Breastmilk should be packed into Zip-lock bags and those bags should then be wrapped in newspaper. Make the outside Zip-locks are as airtight as possible – in case there is a leak the bags will keep the milk contained. You will want to keep any dry ice from touching the Zip-locks or they will break due to the extreme cold.
- Put several more layers of newspaper over the newspaper wrapped milk. Then, put the remaining ½ of the dry ice on top of the newspaper and if there is space left over stuff it with just enough newspaper to keep everything from shifting around in the cooler.
- Some families may prefer that you put any receipts for milk storage bags, dry ice, cooler, etc on top of the newspaper
- Secure the lid on the cooler and tape it WELL with either duct tape or shipping tape, leaving just a bit untapped so that the ice can vent (or the cooler could burst open)!
- Print a label stating that HUMAN MILK is contained inside and is FRAGILE and PERISHABLE and tape it securely to the cooler. Check with your carrier, as they may have additional labels that must be affixed.
- Ideally, you will schedule the shipment to arrive on Thursday or Friday, by dropping the package off at FedEx, UPS, or USPS on Monday – Wednesday. The recipient family should ideally set up a shipping account with either carrier in advance to avoid the donor needing reimbursement for shipping expenses. Please note: donors should be paid for shipping in advance if no shipping account will be used (as with USPS)! Busy moms can easily forget to reimburse for shipping otherwise.
- Be certain to ensure that the recipient family will be home to receive the milk and transfer it immediately to another freezer! Unpack carefully, wearing gloves when handling remaining dry ice.
Here is feedback from Amy, a mom that prefers to ship USPS, with dry ice, but without a cooler:
"Freeze milk in approximately 15 oz portions in regular ziplock food
storage bags. Freeze the milk laying flat. Pack the frozen packets of milk into a paper sack. Put about 2" of wadded up newspaper in the bottom of a box, then about 1" of newspaper on top of that layer and around the outside edges. Put in your milk, then a layer of newspaper, your bag of dry ice (5 or 6 lbs), then 1" more of newspaper. Seal your box. USPS usually requires you drop off your package by about 1:30 p.m. and deliver the next day by about 10:30 am. They do NOT guarantee express between ALL addresses, you'll have to make sure it does go to where you want it to go...otherwise, yes I think you'd have to use the cooler and more dry ice and go UPS or FedEx. USPS does have a limit of how much dry ice they'll allow, 5 or 6 lbs. which is only enough for up to 24 hours.
Full disclosure- this package, the 2 bags of milk on the furthest outside
edges were slightly thawed like soft frozen ice cream. I just put those in the fridge to use the next 2 days instead of refreezing them. However, I have refroze milk that was slightly thawed like that and had no bad effects."
Photos of milk above were also courtesy of Amy.