Mrs. United States Katie Garza (and the newest Best for Babes Champion for Moms), is using her title to further the human milk cause. After three premature babies and two unsuccessful attempts to provide her own breastmilk, she now pumps daily to donate so that other NICU babies can benefit. We think she should be crowned Mrs. Pump USA!
BfB: All three of your girls were born premature and the first two didn’t breastfeed or receive donor milk. Tell us about those experiences.
KG: Phoenix (6) was born at 32 weeks. She was in the NICU and so sick, and so tiny, and I couldn’t hold her. The only thing I could do for her was feed her. I would pump and pump and pump for hours – I lived at the hospital – but I wasn’t producing enough. After not being able to hold her, not being able to touch her, it was heartbreaking not to be able to give her what she needed. That was my introduction to breastfeeding. Gracie (4) also spent time in the NICU. I tried to get her to latch and she couldn’t. I pumped, just like I did with Phoenix, but even though I was more educated this time around, I still wasn’t able to do anything for her. It was even more heartbreaking to go through this a second time.
BfB: How did the hospital staff support your intention to provide breastmilk to you your oldest daughters?
KG: There was not a lot of information given to me by hospital staff about breastfeeding either time. I did see a lactation professional who looked at the girls’ latches, and tried to see why they weren’t able to latch well. But there was not a lot of follow-up. The hospital said to give them breast milk, and if I didn’t pump enough, they’d just give them formula. They didn’t mention donor milk as an option or its importance. So, the only information I was armed with, was what I could find on my own. I turned to Google to figure out how I could ensure my children got the breast milk they needed. I didn’t know about donor milk at all!
BfB: The third time can be the charm — how did it go with your youngest daughter, Aubrey, now 7 months?
KG: I had my third child, Aubrey by C-Section. The moment she was born, I was calling for her. I wanted the doctors to give her to me so she could latch right away, but she wasn’t breathing well so they took her down to the NICU. I felt so torn up and I just cried. I needed her, I needed her with me, and she was ripped away. About six hours after her birth, they let me go down to see her in the NICU. I asked the nurses if I could breastfeed her, and they obliged. Nobody was there, it was just me and Aubrey, and she took to it right away. It was probably the most beautiful and most natural thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. Every 2-3 hours, my husband would load me into the wheelchair with all my IVs and wheel me to the NICU to nurse her so that I never missed a feeding. I was also able to pump a little colostrum, which I ended up donating because she latched so well. I was able to give another baby that “liquid gold,” which was amazing! Editor’s note: Breastfeeding Booby Traps(R) abound in the NICU. Click here to learn more.
BfB: How did your feeding experiences turn you into a pumping champion for other babies and the founder of Pumping for Preemies?
KG: When you’re a mom, your instincts are to care for others –to take care of your children as well as others’ children. There’s something that was really life-giving to me a few weeks after having Aubrey. Knowing I had extra colostrum and milk that I could do something with it, recalling how I wished I could have given it to Phoenix and Gracie when they were in the NICU, knowing I could help other babies that were like my baby —it made me feel like I was putting on a superhero cape! So once I was breastfeeding Aubrey and starting to donate milk, it just kind of all fell together. I started my nonprofit, Pumping for Preemies, when Aubrey was 4 weeks old.
BfB: What inspired you to compete for the Mrs. Texas and Mrs. USA titles?
KG: Pumping for Preemies and the cause of donor milk is what drove me to compete in Mrs. Texas, which led to Mrs. United States. When I was pregnant with Aubrey, I thought about doing a pageant as motivation for getting back into shape. I’ve always loved pageants, and I was fascinated by the idea of women being empowered with a title like Mrs. Texas. But after Aubrey was born and I started pumping, I had a conversation with my husband one evening and I told him I wanted to compete at Mrs. Texas to create awareness about donor milk and breastfeeding support. His response? He thought it was fantastic, but they might not support me or like me breastfeeding back stage – but that was why we needed to do this! Pumping for Preemies came first – the crown came second.
BfB: Why did you choose human milk donation as your platform?
KG: I have a lot of respect for pageants because unless you’re doing something meaningful, you won’t be successful. It’s not about being beautiful or wearing a nice gown – it’s about doing something more with this opportunity. I truly believe that Pumping for Preemies is the reason I won Mrs. United States. I think that there were 54 other beautiful, intelligent, inspirational role models who were competing for Mrs. United States, but I believe the work I’m doing is so important and legitimate that the judges chose me to carry on this crown. They knew that any time I had the opportunity to talk about it, I would! Whenever you have a crown on your head, it’s amazing how many people listen to you and how many doors open for you!
BfB: Tell us a little about the reaction from the pageant community around you pumping and breastfeeding!
KG: At Mrs. Texas, I had the opportunity to nurse Aubrey, but she didn’t come with us to Las Vegas for the Mrs. United States pageant. I had a reputation for not being modest about it, because I was just like, hey I’m sorry, I have to pump! But a lot of the women were supportive, because many of them are mothers and some were also nursing while competing. So many could relate and it really helped motivate me to continue. I had to pump throughout the entire weekend of Mrs. Texas and the entire week of Mrs. United States! It was hilarious – the running joke was, how many places can Katie pump? I pumped in the car during my commute about 90% of the time. Can you imagine me driving down the road with the crown on my head and my pump strapped in?
BfB: What astonishing fact about donor milk do you wish the world knew?
KG: The most astonishing fact is just that it exists! It seems like everyone I talk to outside of the breastfeeding community doesn’t even know about it. They have no clue! To me, that’s astounding and why I worked hard to compete in the Mrs. United States pageant. The second thing I would want to talk about is how breast milk is not just nutrition – it’s medication for babies who are so tiny and fighting to survive.
BfB: We love hearing stories of how moms turn a traumatic experience into something powerful and healing. What message do you have for other moms about the power of donating milk?
KG: Donor milk is life-saving to babies in the NICU. The most important thing I say to moms is that whenever you donate to a milk bank, you are giving milk to babies in the hospital who, without breast milk, may not do as well, and will spend more time away from their mothers and families. It can be so healing for mamas who have had trauma in the past – lost a baby, had a child in the NICU – for them donating milk can feel amazing. And it will save the lives of other babies. I’m very new to all of this, but I feel such an amazing outpouring of love and support from the breastfeeding community.
BfB: How much milk has Pumping for Preemies donated to date and how do you directly help babies who are struggling to survive?
KG: In the five months we’ve been operating, we’ve donated a total of 5200 ounces of human milk – 3,000 of which came from one mom! There are about 12 donor moms on my team. Whenever I tell moms that 3oz can feed a preemie for an entire day, they’re dumbstruck. They can’t believe they can provide a whole day’s worth of nutrition and medicine for a baby with just one 3oz bottle. So that’s a lot of babies’ lives we’re saving. I use the team to track how many ounces we donate so I can set goals for fundraising. We want to donate money to any program that Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) uses to help offset the costs of donor milk for families who may not be able to afford it.
BfB: You never gave up on breastfeeding. What’s your advice for an expecting mom who didn’t meet her personal breastfeeding goals initially?
KG: I never knew that even if you don’t start out breastfeeding, you can relactate! You can still feed your baby! In retrospect, I wish that I’d had that. That is something I want to provide to moms that I come across in my life. Even if you think that you can’t, even if you stopped months ago, you can still produce milk and start over! Editor’s note: Kellymom.com has some great information on relactation. I also want to say that even just 6 months into my nursing/donating experience, I can’t begin to express to moms who have not breastfed, how much support is out there. Whenever I’m out at with my children and I see another mother nursing, I’m totally the creeper mom who goes up and hugs her. That’s something so special that I want every mom to feel. I want them to now about this secret sisterhood!
Editors note: We agree! Breastfeeding moms need cheers not sneers (or worse). Get our Thank You for Breastfeeding/Harassment Hotline cards and give them out whenever you see a mom nursing in public!
BfB: What’s next for Mrs. United States and Pumping for Preemies?
KG: Our next step is fundraising for families who can’t afford donor milk. It was actually my husband’s idea! He suggested we set up Pumping for Preemies as a nonprofit and raise funds that we can give directly to families to cover the cost of milk. Donor milk can be very expensive in the day-to-day costs, which is something we can relate to. We struggled financially after Phoenix was born, because I left my job to be with her all the time. Even paying for formula is expensive, but had we known about donor milk we would have chosen that as an alternative. If we’d known that we could receive it at no cost if the insurance didn’t cover it, would have been life-changing. I think it’s a selfish thing, really. To know that the families we can touch personally, to be able to see that and to meet them, is something kind of selfish. We want to know the families were helping, versus letting the milk bank just distribute the milk we’re donating. My greatest joy is knowing the families we’re helping. We want to give families the support, love, help, and support we would have needed when we were younger.
Has Katie’s story inspired you as much as it has us? We want you on our team! Join Best for Babes and our Champions for Moms in supporting the annual nationwide Miracle Milk™ Stroll each May. Or GIVE to our cause today! To learn more about how to donate milk, contact HMBANA.org.
This interview was brought to you in part by the C.A.R.E.-Code Alliance — the first alliance of businesses that have pledged to protect healthy infant feeding!