Sunday, September 19, 2010

Because it could be my baby

Certain things are supposed to happen a certain way. We can accept, if begrudgingly, that sometimes things don't go as they are "supposed" to, we can make allowances for the times when a curve ball is thrown and we swing hard only to strike. For many of us, when it comes to breastfeeding, that's what formula is for. When what is supposed to work doesn't.

But did you know that formula is the 4th and last option the World Health Organization recommends as a substitute for a mother breastfeeding? The WHO ranks infant nutrition in this order: 1) direct breastfeeding; 2) the mother’s pumped or expressed milk in a bottle; 3) another mother’s donated human milk, and 4) artificial breastmilk substitute.

Look a little further into breastmilk it's not difficult to see why. From lower infant mortality rates to a marked reduction in SIDS, from lower childhood obesity to disease fighting antibodies, from optimal nutrition to increase protection against allergies, and new studies showing that stem cells are present in breastmilk as well. And then there are the risks associated with formula feeding. With all this and then some, it is no wonder that donated breastmilk ranks higher in priority for infant nutrition than artificial breastmilk substitutes, AKA formula. So when things don't work how they are supposed to, for whatever reason, and pumping isn't a viable option, again for whatever reason, then before reaching for formula the World Health Organization recommends families find donated breastmilk.

The problem is how difficult it can be to get donated breastmilk as Karen shared in a guest post not too long ago. Whether it be via milk banks through such organizations as The Human Milk Banking Association of America or informal direct donation as found through places like MilkShare, there simply isn't enough donated milk available. And the price can be prohibitive even through direct donation if shipping is involved. This further complicates the problems of what was supposed to work, not working.

I am a milk donor. I have 4 milk babies and all of them came to their families through adoption and though their mommies tried, they were unable to induce lactation or relactate to a point to fully meet their babies needs. It has been an honor to assist these families and something I am proud of. All of my milk donation has been through informal, direct donation. Sometimes the need is because of adoption and sometimes it is for physical reasons where the mother is unable to breastfeed or has insufficient milk production. This past week I read several stories from families needing milk but one in particular stood out: a father looking for donated breastmilk for his newborn baby boy. This mother had planned to breastfeed when her son was born at the end of August and she did, for 6 days until she died unexpectedly in her sleep. Now, to honor his wife's wishes and to do the best he can for his son this father is looking for donated breastmilk. MckMama blogs about the situation, her emotional response to it and drives this father's plea further in her blog piece "The Post In Which I Ask For Your Breastmilk" asking for more lactating women to step up and help this family get the milk this little boy so needs. When I read this story and others, my mind jumps to the bags of frozen milk in my freezer and I wonder if I could increase my supply to meet these needs. Somehow, some way I want to personally provide every baby in need of breastmilk with enough milk to meet their needs. Even as I write this my eyes fill with tears again because of this tragic situation and as I fight the sting I realize something.

I donate because it could be my baby.

Because it could be my breasts that didn't produce enough or even any milk.

Because it could be my baby born in my heart but came from the body of another woman.

Because it could be my breast surgery done when I didn't think about breastfeeding my future babies.

Because it could be my baby born too early or with other complications and it could be my breasts don't produce enough through expressing and pumping.

Because it could be my health failing, it could be my heart surgery, my cancer, my complications.

Because it could be my family grieving my death and my husband looking for milk for my baby.

Because it could be my baby that needed the milk of another woman and I hope it would be there.

A few months ago a friend was very close to having her little boy and she sent me an e-mail asking me a favor: should she die would I please help her husband find breastmilk for their new baby? I wanted to tell her not to think like that, only positive thoughts going into birth but something held me back. The pure honesty in admitting a fear that I have pressed down in myself demanded an honest answer. Yes, I would do it. I also told her that I understood her fear. Because I do. In that moment all the statistics in the world don't matter, what matters are the ones that will become the reality for you family, for your baby. And you need to know there are provisions should you need them. Because it could be your baby.

In the case of my friend, she and her little guy are doing well and I am grateful I did not need to help her husband find donor milk for their son. This other family was not so fortunate and they do need donor milk. As do many others. There are far more babies who do not need donated breastmilk than do but for those that are in need the difficulty and expense in finding human milk can be too much. For these families to follow the recommendation of The World Health Organization and get donated breastmilk for their babies we need more donating moms. Have you ever wondered for even the briefest moment if your baby was getting enough milk from your breast? Have you ever been concerned that your health or medications you require could prohibit you from breastfeeding? Or have you ever let your mind wander to the fear of you not being able to get to your baby in the case of some kind of disaster or emergency? Then you can understand a fraction of the worry a mother or father with a baby in need of donated breastmilk. If you are one of those mothers or fathers please know that my heart, and my milk, goes out to you. To any woman currently lactating or will be some day, would you consider adding even just one pumping session a day into your schedule to help out these families? If you respond well to expressing your milk, please consider becoming a milk donor either through safe direct donation or by becoming a screened milk donor with a milk bank in your area. Anyone with milk already stashed in your freezer but more than you require, please explore the possibility of sharing that milk if it isn't more than 6 months old, passing it on to another family in need. If you are interested in helping the family whose story I shared briefly here please follow the hyperlink to MckMama's blog for more information and check out this information on shipping frozen breastmilk if you are not local to that family or have found another family in need of milk but not in your area. Because it could be your baby.

Every human baby deserves to have the normal nutrition for a human infant: human breastmilk. To every lactating woman, past, present and future that has ever shared or will ever share even a drop of her milk with another woman's baby I thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Whether you give through safe direct donation or through an established Milk Bank such as one approved by the Human Milk Banking Association of America, I thank you.

Because it could be my baby.

Please note:
For families looking for milk, it is important that you be informed on the potential risks of receiving breastmilk through informal donation vs. a recognized milk bank when making your decision.


  1. Reading your blog, in tears. I am not unhealthy, I am cancer-free, and I have no reason not to be exclusively breastfeeding. In short, I am stupid and my husband and I couldn't stand to hear our newborn cry at around 7pm every night. So after a few days of thinking, at 3 weeks old, we gave him 3 oz of formula, which became a daily habit. Our newborn is now 4 months old, and formula has taken over and I am left struggling with an extremely low supply and my pump. A friend offered to help by giving me her extra expressed milk to feed my baby until my supply increased.... reading this now makes me seriously consider saying okay.

  2. Anonymous, I'm so glad you have your health and your baby is healthy as well. That is such a wonderful gift. You've also given your baby some of your wonderful milk and that too is a wonderful gift. To be a stressed and exhausted parent looking for ways to soothe your baby is not stupid, it is natural. To find that you didn't understand how giving a bottle of formula could impact your breastfeeding is the unfortunate result of a culture that has long lost the natural understanding of the breastfeeding relationship. Don't give up hope, it is possible to increase your supply and even get your baby back on the breast.

    What an amazing friend you have with her generous offer, I hope that things work out and you find true support and accurate information in your quest to turn things around if that is what you decide to do. I encourage to join The Leaky B@@b Facebook page for more support and mom to mom encouragement.

    Please know you are not alone. (((hugs)))

  3. As one of the adoptive moms who supplemented my own induced lactation with your donated milk, I'm eternally grateful for milk donors like you.

  4. I am a mother who makes a lot of milk. After stocking my freezer I am left everyday with milk I end up dumping just cause I have no room to store anymore. I try to not pump but I am just too full. I need to pump at least once a day, usually do it after a feeding and get about 10-12 ounces. I feel so bad just dumping my milk and this has made me really want to share my milk with someone in need. I have thought about doing it in the past, but haven't. Now I just gotta find the right company/people to do it through. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  5. Anonymous: I just read an article that says it is completely possible to re-lactate. You do not need to give up- YOU CAN DO IT!! It is hard- keep trying- you will NEVER regret it! Try taking blessed thistle and fenugreek.
    Love on yourself.. Hold that baby & when he is at the breast, smile at him- it makes you feel better and helps your milk.

  6. I am so touched by this blog. One of the women in my Bradley birthing class had a breast lift done without knowing of the conquences, and was unable to produce enough milk for her son, born three weeks before mine. I had a freezer full of milk that I shared with her, and was able to keep him exclusively on breastmilk until he was six monts old. It was special for all of us, and I feel like I will always have a bond with her, and her son. Now that I'm nursing my second child, I will look and see if I can help anyone again. Thank you for reminding me how important this is. I'll write about it on my own blog and share this post with my friends.

  7. ashlynn08: Please consider donating your milk! I work with moms on milkshare
    There are more moms/babies in need then there are donors. The process is simple. just post on your state's forum that you have milk. I have had three mom's get in contact with me in the last month and I wish I could help them all. They walked me through the process and they are such great people.

  8. you know, this was my baby. my baby who wanted to guzzle way more milk at daycare then I was able to provide. my sister, out of the kindness of her own heart offered me her own pumped breastmilk so I wouldn't have the worry of him not having enough at daycare to drag my supply down even more. It helped. I wish I were currently lactating to be able to help someone :(

  9. Anonymous- I want to encourage you to check out the book, Mother Food. It is AMAZING! You did the natural thing in a world where formula is marketed as "safe" and almost as better than breast milk. Few women know what a few ounces will do to supply and the snowball effect it has. You are an AMAZING mommy for going the distance for your little one. Keep your head up and know that you can up your supply again if you keep at it! Blessings to you and your sweet baby!

  10. I donate..I pump at work enough for my daughter and a little boy who has seizures. My good friend tandem nurses her 2yo and 4month old and pumps to donate to the same boy. I love donating so much that I have given up chocolate since the donor babe is sensitive to it.

  11. I really appreciate this post on so many levels. I appreciate how you illustrated the HUMAN side of the story. As a NICU mom, I appreciate that milk banks try to serve preemies first. Thankfully, I never needed their help. But I know that every mama who wants to give their baby breast milk deserves it. And milk banks, rightfully so, have to take precautions that somewhat decrease the benefits of human milk. Plus, the supply is so much less than the demand, that even those who are qualified can rarely actually get the milk.
    And after I spent months pumping for the NICU freezer, I was happy to donate the excess to other mamas in need. And in my current lactation, I donated to a mama of triplets. She was dedicated to giving her preemie triplets milk and was nursing them around the clock. Although, with their tongue ties and health issues, her supply was just not enough. It felt awesome to hand over those bags of milk.
    I think that people need to look at the WHO recommendations. And I think our culture needs to acknowledge the importance and significance of breastfeeding. It has an impact on all of us. If everyone treated breastfeeding as the norm and no one felt unsupported in breastfeeding, more moms would do it.
    I think we need to support mom to mom milk sharing. Any mother who knows the importance of breast milk, and who wants the best for her baby, will definitely not go into milk sharing lightly. Groups like milkshare and EoF exist only to connect moms to other moms for milk exchange. Just like you have to make any other choice for your baby, you need to educate yourself about it first.
    You really struck a heartstring with me when you shared about your friend's request. I told my husband the same thing before my 2nd son was born, and after a few months of nursing my first. I told him how access the milkshare group, in case of my death, and to make sure our children got mama milk for at least the first year. It's a nasty thought, but it was a fear for me, and I was happy to know that he would be able to do it.
    In this crazy world, it's so easy to pass judgment on others. But the bottom is that all babies deserve the best. And parents have to make choices for their infants, and what will work for each family. So if some people want and choose to formula feed, that is their right. And if some people choose to find donor milk, then that is their right. No one is in the wrong for making the best decision they can with the information and support they have. But I am thankful that you have shared the human aspect of this story - the true impact mama milk can have on a family and a baby.


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