Feeding Solutions: Milk Sharing

What is milk sharing?

I am a firm believer in what is best for mom is best for baby.  There are a million different ways to come to your decision about how you are going to feed your baby, this is my story of how we came to our infant feeding solution.

With my first baby, for nine months that looked like exclusively breastfeeding.  It was all a bowl of cherries for us. I was lucky enough to have a very “progressive” employer at the time, I was able to bring my infant with me until it was no longer productive to do so.  We built a strong base and had all the support one could have on their breastfeeding journey.  At 9 mine months old it was time for my son to start staying with a care provider during work hours.  I began to pump at home and at work, while taking my lunch breaks to feed the baby.  I am so thankful for the care provider who wholly supported our feeding desires and allowed me to become part of their daily routine.

It quickly became evident that I was not able to provide enough milk through expression to meet my baby’s needs. Through trial and error, different methods of expression, Euphoric Herbals, and meetings with my local CLC, I had to make a decision on how to supplement my own milk to provide my baby with enough nourishment.

Why should you milkshare?

Like many mothers who stumble upon a roadblock in their journey; I turned to my tribe for support, both locally and online. I listened to other women's experience and started researching my options. I was introduced to Human Milk 4 Human Babies by a mom in my local babywearing community. 

In my research, I discovered the WHO states that in the situations where an infant cannot or should not be breastfed from the infant’s own mother that the best alternative is milk expressed from a healthy wet-nurse, donor or from a human-milk bank depending on the individual circumstances.

It is recommended that you first seek out a formal donor through a milk bank that will screen all milk, which will require a prescription.  Since my reason for seeking human milk was not due to medical reasons, I was unable to obtain a prescription and decided to proceed in finding an informal donor.

Of course there are risks involved in informal milk sharing, but they can be greatly reduced by diligence on the donor and recipients behalf. If you proceed with an informal donor, NEVER purchase milk online or give money to a local donor. I offered to replace bags, both storage and freezer bags, for my donor.  I felt it was the least I could do, but often times she told me to keep them until next time or requested I give them to someone in need.

Additionally, consider the ages of your baby compared to the mothers’ baby at the time the milk was expressed. You may also choose to request testing for HIV, herpes, hepatitis, strep or staph if you wish.

You will want to know how the milk was expressed and how it has been stored.  An informal donor/recipient relationship becomes quite intimate, you will want to inquire the mother about her lifestyle; is she healthy, is there any recreational, prescription drug, or alcohol use?

How to find a Milk Donor?

In talking to other women, the following are some reasons for seeking out a breast milk donor:
- Premature or very ill babies in NICU cannot use formula due to bacterial risks of infection
- Mother has insufficient supply
- Medical reasons/unsafe prescription medication that mother must take
- Returning to work and mother cannot pump enough
- Formula is expensive

The following is a list of benefits of milk sharing vs. formal feeding:
- Reduced risk of bacterial infection
- Less likely to develop milk protein allergies
- Human milk meets all the developmental needs of a human baby, which is especially important in premature or sick babies
- There is a cost savings to the family over formula

The milk sharing experience challenged my perspective about infant feeding.  I felt empowered by making an informed decision that worked best for my needs and my baby’s needs. I felt encouraged by mothers around me being supportive of that decision. I always assumed that breastfeeding should be easy because it is natural, but quickly learned it is quite the opposite.  That each mother and baby has their own unique story, that each story is beautiful and that we should listen before making assumptions in any direction.

One huge revelation I had during this exploration; I found the phrase “Breast is Best” to be damaging to mothers. Especially those who may be in a fragile mental state or suffering from postpartum depression and/or anxiety. Breast is not always best for the mother, but it is biologically normal in the case of the baby’s nutritional and developmental requirement. As a mother you should be supported in whatever educated decision you decide is best for you and your baby. Fed is best. You should research all your options and weigh the risks and benefits as you see fit for your family.

More information about formal milk sharing can be found through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. My preferred organization for finding informal donors is Human Milk 4 Human Babies, look into your state’s chapter for finding a donor or mother in need near you. Please talk to your care provider about the benefits and risks of using both donor milk and formula.

Brittany is a postpartum doula and babywearing educator with a passion for new mothers. She is working hard to make changes in her community by providing the opportunity to have an empowered and supported mother-centered postpartum family experience. Brittany has previously worked in the Print and Marketing Industry but dove into a career change upon becoming pregnant with her second child.

Connect with Brittany at Hello Blessed Mama

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