Skip to main content

Erin Leanhardt: My Experience as a WakeMed Mothers’ Milk Bank Donor

My fourth child, a beautiful sweet baby girl, Lyra Noelle, was placed into our arms last October.  I was so relieved labor was over, yet one look in her tiny face told me something was different from my other children.

“Down Syndrome” were the two words not yet spoken by anyone in the delivery room, yet those words would not leave my mind.

When my husband, oldest son and mother left the room to head home from the hospital, I finally had the courage to utter what seemed to me unspeakable words: “Do you think my baby has Down Syndrome?”

“Yes I do,” my nurse answered with compassion in her eyes.

My stream of tears could finally flow.

Lyra could not latch on to feed and soon began having troubles maintaining her temperature and getting enough oxygen.  She was taken to the NICU where she spent her first three days being cared for by a wonderful medical team.

Staring at my baby covered with wires and tubes made me feel helpless. Everything I knew about taking care of a baby was now challenged.  Yet in my helplessness, I knew there were two things I could do.  I could pray and I could pump life-giving milk for my sweet baby girl.

More Milk Than I Could Use

So I prayed and I pumped and one drop of milk in the milk collection bottle turned into a couple ounces, which soon filled a whole bottle.  And then another bottle. By the time my baby was ready to leave the NICU it was apparent I had more milk than she would be able to use. A nurse from the Rex NICU suggested I look into becoming a donor for the WakeMed Mothers’ Milk Bank.

In the first month, my husband, my mother and I spent around 12 hours a day on feedings.

Attempt nursing.




Attempt nursing.




The rhythm of the breast pump lulled me to sleep and then I’d wake again, just in time to repeat the process.

We had to do feedings every 3-4 hours through the night and more frequently during the day. Slowly Lyra began to gain weight.

Aware that our freezer was quickly filling up with milk, I finally took the step to contact the WakeMed Mothers’ Milk Bank to begin the process of becoming a donor. Yes, the forms were lengthy and then there was the trip to go get my blood tested, but somehow I found time to go and get that done, and it was totally worth the effort. So I became a donor for the WakeMed Mothers’ Milk Bank.

What a joy to be able to share my milk to help another baby in the NICU who might be in the same place Lyra had been just a couple months before.

Learning to Care for Lyra While Helping Babies in Need

By three months of age Lyra finally was able to nurse exclusively. We’re learning the ins and outs of caring for a baby with Down Syndrome and still adjusting to being a family of four. Lyra is now a happy, healthy, 9 month-old baby who loves nursing and truly “rocks” her extra chromosome.

Whenever I have extra milk, I still pump and stash it away in our deep freezer until I’m ready to bring my next donation to the Mothers’ Milk Bank.

It comforts me to know that although we are just coming out of a difficult time for our family, our trials have resulted in the gift of some extra milk for other babies like Lyra who need a little boost as they get started in life.

About Erin Leanhardt

Erin Leanhardt is a wife and homeschool mother of four living in Raleigh. In her free time she enjoys exploring Raleigh greenways, studying the Bible and reading good children’s books from the library.

Become a Milk Donor

Interested in becoming a milk donor, or simply interested in learning more about the WakeMed Mothers’ Milk Bank? Use the contact information below. Interested in sharing your milk donor story? Email us: and put “Milk Bank Donor” in the subject line.

WakeMed Mothers’ Milk Bank
1900 Kildaire Farm Road
Cary, NC 27518
Map & Directions


Support the Milk Bank

You can support the WakeMed Mothers’ Milk Bank by making a gift to the WakeMed Foundation and designating it to our milk bank. Donate here.