Thursday, August 22, 2013

Donating Breastmilk: My Decision to Share Milk

Last week, 60 ounces of my breast milk took a trip across the state. It will help feed a baby whose mother wants him to eat only breast milk, but who isn't able to provide it all herself. Since this mama contacted me, I've started adding some extra pumping sessions here and there, in hopes that I can continue to donate on an ongoing basis.

My decision to donate breast milk wasn't something I took lightly. When Delilah was born, we had some minor bumps in the road early in our nursing relationship that, coupled with first-time-mom nerves, had me holding on to every last drop. When Canon was born, I was much more confident and knowledgeable about normal lactation. Before I'd even returned to work, I started to consider looking for a family who was in need of donated breast milk. In talking with others, I decided to wait and see how my milk supply leveled out after I returned to work to make sure that I'd have enough of a surplus that I'd feel comfortable sharing some. I didn't want to bend over backwards doing all sorts of extra pumping just so I could donate, but if I happened to be able to go just a little above and beyond Canon's needs in my regular pumping sessions, I was enamored of the idea of sharing that extra with another baby. I didn't put a whole lot of thought into it again until recently.

Whenever a friend or acquaintance is expecting, I typically try to make myself available as a resource for information on breast feeding, circumcision, baby wearing, cloth diapering, and other parenting practices that I feel confident in my knowledge and experience with. (I have learned that the "I'm here if you have questions approach" tends to be better received than the "OMG YOU MUST THIS AND/OR YOU CANNOT THAT BECAUSE..." approach. ;)

This particular mom is one who was interested in cloth diapers, so when I reached out to offer to answer any questions for her, I also threw in that I'd be happy to offer support or information about breast feeding, if she happened to be nursing. At that time, she didn't respond to that offer, so I assumed that either everything was going well, or that she wasn't nursing, and continued to help her with her cloth diapering inquiries.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and this mama got in touch again. As we started introducing solid foods for Canon and sharing photos, my cousin commented on his, ahem, robustness, with a question about what was in my breast milk, and when I answered that "My breast milk is made up of 100% awesome," she agreed and suggested I might consider donating some. I responded that I had thought about it, and that now that my supply had leveled out and I was still typically pumping more than Canon eats while I'm at work, I might be in a position to do so.



So this mama, having seen this interaction, took a chance and contacted me privately to share her story and ask if I might be willing to donate some milk for her son, who she wasn't able to fully supply with breast milk for medical reasons. The first thing I was struck by when I read her message was how hard she'd been working to make as much of her own milk for her baby as she could, and how hard she was working to find donors to supplement what she couldn't. The second thing was how honored I was that she felt comfortable asking me about what can be an uncomfortable (and for some, even embarrassing) topic.

I added up the bags of milk in my freezer, talked to my husband about it, and together, we decided to go forward with donating to this family. I worked out the details of how to get the milk to her, since she doesn't live in town, and at that point, I added an extra pumping session here and there when I could at work (while working on paperwork and such, so it didn't necessitate extra breaks or increase the length of my work day). Last Friday, it all came together when a family member of hers picked up the donation to take it to her and her baby. I got word that it arrived safe and sound, and my heart is warmed to know that this week, another sweet little baby whose mother is equally as passionate about the normalcy and biological appropriateness of human milk for human babies is sharing in some of the milk that has helped my own baby grow so big and strong.

I'm now convinced that I'm putting all sorts of milky vibes out there, as I've now been contacted by another friend who has a family member who is finding it challenging to keep up with nursing her twins. Since I'm not in a position to make another donation so soon (because I can't help but feel compelled to hoard at least a modest stash for my own), I directed her to Eats on Feets, a network for matching up milk donors with families in need of milk donations, and offered to put her family member in touch with a friend who has successfully breast fed her own twins and who is working toward lactation credentials. (You may know her as The Boob Geek.)

I'm hopeful that I will continue to be able to donate breast milk. I don't share this experience because I'm looking for "good jobs" or pats on the back or crunchy mama points. I share it to help draw attention to the practice of private milk sharing, and to the fact that when supplementation becomes necessary, formula is not the only option, and is in fact not necessarily the best option. There are many parents who wish for their babies to be fed breast milk, but who are unable, for a variety of reasons (medication, breast surgery, adoption, no female parent, etc.) to meet the infant's needs for milk. There are many mothers with freezers full of milk who end up throwing it away when their children wean, because they aren't aware that they could donate it. There are not a whole lot of people talking openly about it. So, I am. Sharing my story of sharing my milk, in hopes that maybe one parent who is struggling to provide breast milk will discover the possibility of donor milk, or one with an abundant supply will discover the possibility of finding a family who will put her liquid gold to good use!

If you are seeking donor milk, or have milk to donate, check out Eats on Feets!

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