I talk about Milk Sharing in my Breastfeeding Essentials class. In class, I also handout a resource sheet on breastfeeding, the links to the Milk Sharing information are on the handout as well as on the Resources tab here, on the website.
For those who don’t know, Milk Sharing either refers to using someone else’s breastmilk to feed your baby, or you donating your breastmilk to feed another mother’s little one. Way back when, this was usually done by wetnursing. However, most modern mothers aren’t comfortable with the idea of letting another woman put their baby to her breast. Neither are they comfortable with the idea of nursing someone else’s child. (There are, of course, some mamas who are comfortable with wetnursing. I’m speaking in a general sense.)
With the advent of the breastpump in 1854, we started to see the beginning of the obsolescence of wetnursing. It took about a century untill we had truly affordable, functional breastpumps. Welcome women’s lib, the feminist movement and all of us being able to go back to work postpartum… But I digress…
Milk Sharing was something I wish I had known about when I had my son, Owen. I became a stay-at-home mom after his birth. Even so, I had registered for and received the fancy Medela double electric pump (you know, the one I show you in Breastfeeding Essentials!). I pumped with him, because I wanted him to have the occasional bottle. I wanted to be able to go out by myself, or on a date with my husband. I pumped once a day, because I thought I should. Lo and behold, the boy *never* took a bottle! Ok… maybe one or two, but mostly he just cried and waited for me to get home.
So, I ended up with a chest freezer full of breastmilk. It never got used. I had no idea what to do with it, so I ended up dumping hundreds of ounces of breastmilk down my utility sink in the basement. See, I was an uber-pumper. I could pump 8-12 oz in about 10 minutes. My son never drank it and I had no clue I could donate it. Wow, does it make me sad to have to say that now. The thought of all those ounces down the drain…
Fast forward four years, when I’ve learned better. I was part of a local mamas email list. One local mom said that she would be interested in having donated breastmilk for her yet-to-be born son. See, she had a breast reduction surgery years before and knew her ability to breastfeed would be reduced, if not eliminated all together. I wanted to do better this time around. Since I was such a good pumper with baby #1, why not donate to her with baby #2?
Elaine was born four weeks before this baby boy. So, I started pumping. Elaine didn’t demand as much from my breasts, so my supply was lower. With her, I *only* pumped 6-10 oz. in a ten minute session, as opposed to the 8-12 oz with Owen. Still, that’s a sizeable amount. I needed to have some bottles for Elaine, since I went back to teaching Prenatal Yoga once a week, beginning at six weeks postpartum. I had plenty to donate.
This mama, or her husband, would come by once a week to pick up my stash. It wasn’t enough to fully sustain him, but it kept his formula intake to a reasonable level. I donated to her and her baby boy for six months. It kept him happy and my freezer empty.
If I were to ever have a third child (not terribly likely) then I’d happily do another peer to peer donation.
As an educator, I point mothers to their resources on both giving and receiving donated breastmilk. I believe mothers should know all of their options with regards to pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. I find when I mention it in class, many mothers haven’t heard of Milk Sharing. I feel like one of those after school public service announcements…
Some babies will consume only donated milk; others a mixture of mom’s milk and donor milk; a mix of donor milk and formula; or a mix of all three – mom’s milk, donor milk and formula. There is no one ‘right’ way to feed your baby.
Obviously, I am a fan of Milk Sharing. But, understand that Milk Sharing may not be the right option for every mother who is in need of an alternative way of feeding her child. I support you in whatever your choices are regarding breastfeeding, donated milk, or formula.
Sharing the love, and the breastmilk,