Sunday, August 2, 2015

Something Borrowed

There are many third rails I've discovered in my journey through parenthood.  The biggest one being breastfeeding.

It's such a hot button issue that there are two categories of bloggers who talk about it: those who stir up controversy on purpose, and those who generally avoid it and talk about it only in passing.   I generally fall into the latter of the two.  I've mentioned it here, yes.  I nursed all my kids, the first three exclusively.  Little Boy was supplemented, but only right after birth for weight issues and after he turned a year. LAK was supplemented with donor breast milk in the hospital after birth for health reasons until my milk came in.

I'm a doula, I'm a natural birther, I'm a breast feeder.  I'm crunchy. 

I don't write about nursing often. I know that it is a super emotional issue where just about any mother can be instantly offended.

Breastfeeding really is the third rail of motherhood, and I'm about to touch it.

The FDA issued a statement about milk sharing it a few years back, basically saying that informal milk sharing is dangerous and if people need to obtain human milk they should only do so through use of milk banks. 

The reality is that there are many babies who need breast milk for health reasons.  And some of their mothers cannot make enough milk, or any at all.   I will, for now, ignore the fact that most women who don't think they can make enough milk probably could in reality if given the proper support and determination.  Milk insufficiency, though a legitimate condition, affects a very small percentage of women. 

So, what you have is babies who need milk.  And women who pump too much.  They just don't always happen to be mother and child.

A lot of people are just grossed out by the whole idea of milk sharing.  I think that is amusing to say the least.  In this country, we drink milk without an long as it comes from another animal.  But drinking milk from a human???  That's just plain weird. 

Many people cite the dangers of milk sharing.  They say that you could be exposing your baby to all kinds of diseases and substances passed through from the donor mother without knowing what is in it.  Some cite storage concerns, that the milk may not have been handled and frozen properly and is therefore dangerous.

How is any of that more worrisome than the formula recalls?  I almost died as a baby from salmonella....that I got from a jar of baby food.  Don't believe that the food supply is safe just because it's nicely packaged from some corporation.

There are milk banks, yes.  It is possible to get breast milk that has been screened for disease and processed.  The banks collect donated milk and pasteurize it, which negates a decent amount of the health benefits of breast milk in the process.  The thing that most people don't understand about milk banks is this: they aren't free.  They charge insane prices per ounce of milk.  When you figure that most babies will need somewhere between 24 and 60 ounces of milk a day, that adds up quickly.  Sometimes insurance covers it, sometimes it doesn't.  I know I don't have $300 a day to feed one child.

So there are moms out there who ask their friends, their family members.  I'd say that most cases of milk sharing are not between strangers.  It's not like women are swapping milk in dark alleys with people they don't know.  They know the women who give them milk.  They trust them.  The donors understand how important the milk is.  Most women who spend the time pumping and storing milk are not going to be doing it for anything other than altruistic purposes.  It's extremely time consuming and not very much fun to be honest.

Women helping other women feed their babies.  It's not anything that hasn't happened since the dawn of time.  It's just something that happened quietly before and is now out there in the open.  And the FDA has an opinion about it now.  So everyone suddenly has an opinion about it. 

Frankly, I don't see what the big deal is.  Everyone always gets defensive when people talk about how we choose to feed our babies.  I don't honestly see how this is different.

This is one of those topics that is close to my heart.  Once upon a time, I pumped religiously every day.  Once upon a time, I had a baby who refused to take a bottle.  Once upon a time, I had a freezer full of milk.  Once upon a time, I had a friend who had to instantly wean her newborn.  And once upon a time, that baby still got breast milk until her first birthday.  ;)

Link to what the FDA says about milk sharing
A local milk bank site, for information on cost. Here, $3.50 per ounce.


  1. Awesome!

    I still feel bad about throwing out hundreds of ounces of milk that J never drank. I tried to donate, but it's not easy. There were added expenses and testing on my part, not to mention that I would've had to ship all that milk almost 3,000 miles to the nearest bank.

    I used all of M's frozen stash... the last bag was this week, in fact :)

  2. To me, this whole idea is no different than the wet nurses of old...a woman that was not the baby's own mother...would nurse the baby when the mama couldn't for whatever reason.

    You can't just trust everything blindly anymore, because like you mentioned above, even the commericial formulas have been tainted. Things happen. All we can do is pray and do what we feel is right for the babies. If that means our best friend or mother or sister or whoever provides the milk for the babies, then so be it.

    It should be the mother's choice and these are the areas where the pro-choice movement could do some real good for the women of the world.

    Just my thoughts...I haven't nursed a baby in 16 years now and, thankfully, never had a problem maintaining supply for the demand.

  3. Well said, Kelly. Thank you. I've had plenty of "people", even the breastfeeding promoters, tell me I had to stop because Benedikt was deemed, "failure to thrive". I've kept at it, taking Fenugreek and not once was Benedikt in danger. He's actually way ahead of most children his age.

  4. I gave birth to my firstborn child 38 years ago this month. I breastfed him and the 3 other siblings that followed him over the next 12 years. I figured I actually breastfed for over 7 years all together with breaks for life in between! But probably my favorite nursing time was with my third child. I had met another young pregnant Mom and we had become friends during that 3rd pregnancy. Over the next two years we ended up doing most things together.We vacationed, shopped, camped and often ate our meals together. Once, as I painted and wallpapered her diningroom, she acted as wetnurse to my son. When she had an appointment I would wetnurse her baby boy. We just took care of each other and our children as the need might arise. It was our norm and as baby and breastfeeding advocates it just came about as a natural process. Both of our sons are grown now. They grew up to be best friends. She and I have remained friends too. We are both grandmothers now and offer our experience, wisdom and love to a new generation of breastfeeding mothers and children.
    Thanks for your views! Other young mothers need to hear them!


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