This one’s for Anaya.
April 11, 2011

I believe in milk-sharing.  Informal.  Formal.  All of the above.

This is a hard topic to broach with people because formal milk-sharing – that is, donating milk to a local bank where it is pasteurized and homogenized and then either donated to or purchased by families in need – is relatively uncommon.  Informal milk-sharing – that is, the donation of raw milk from one person to another without the intermediary of a medical facility or, in the case of wet-nursing, even a pump – is almost unheard of.

I should know.

Because I’ve done all three.

I have expressed my milk into a tube and given it to a bank.  I have expressed my milk into a bag and handed it to another woman.  I have held another woman’s hungry child at my breast.

And what I have come to conclude from all of this is that if a family wants breast-milk for their child(ren), it should be made readily available to them.  Certainly, if a family NEEDS breast-milk, they should not want.

This is not about the great and never-ending formula v. breast-milk debate.  Such a tired battle, that one.  And this is not about the great and never-ending debate about when a child ought to wean.  Another tired battle, that one.  This is about believing that every parent has a fundamental right to provide milk for their child – at any age, for any reason.

Last night, when I was contacted on behalf of the Cassin family, my initial thought was ANOTHER PITCH and the exasperation that comes along with that.  But then I read some more, I watched this clip at CBC, and I wrote back and had my questions answered.  Here was a mother trying desperately to do what she feels is best for her child and coming up against wall after wall after wall.  I felt sorrow, anger, and frustration.  It does not seem right to me that a woman trying to provide her child with something as basic and plentiful and inexpensive as healthy breast-milk should have so much difficulty doing so.  And before I knew it, here I was, with a blank page before me and words spilling out.

Because this, as it turns out, is not just about my belief in milk-sharing.  It is also about my belief that every child DESERVES, that every child is OWED, a parent who will go to the moon and back for them.  It is also about my belief that society has somehow let us down when a mother who wants breast-milk has to fight to get it.  It is also about my belief that all of us have the potential to make a difference in the world.  One woman’s milk can make life easier and arguably better for Anaya and her family.

And it doesn’t just stop there.

The reason that I have expressed my milk into a tube and given it to a bank, pumped my milk into a bag and handed it to another woman, and wet-nursed is because I believe that other parents who want or need (or both) to feed their child breast-milk but cannot, for whatever reason, provide it independently SHOULD have access to milk.  My milk is what I have to give and so I give of it.  Freely.  Happily.  Without batting an eye.

My child’s milk.  Their child’s milk.

I believe that my milk makes life easier and better for the families who receive it – for the parents who buy it, for the children who gulp it down – and I believe that it should not ever be a struggle for them to get it.  I believe, firmly and fervently believe, that informal milk-sharing has enjoyed a resurgence in large part because parents’ demands for readily available breast-milk have not been met.  And I believe that children like Anaya should always have that demand met.  I believe that women like Camara should never need to worry about how much milk is left in the freezer.

Today, I would love it if you took a moment to think about Camara and Anaya and what you would do in Camara’s shoes.  You do not need to agree with me or my choices, but I would love to know how you feel about formal (bank) milk-sharing and about informal (personal donation, wet-nursing) milk-sharing.  Do you have any milk-sharing experiences of your own?  And if you are a nursing mother, I would love for you to consider giving of any excess milk you might have to a local bank or to a fellow parent in need.  If you are a nursing mother who lives near Camara, please consider getting in touch with her to provide milk for Anaya.  You never know when your milk is going to make a difference.

Camara’s Blog | The Anaya Initiative | Eats on Feets | Eats on Feets - Facebook | Human Milk 4 Human Babies | Human Milk 4 Human Babies - Facebook

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  1. By Emily on April 11, 2011

    I don’t usually comment, but I just had to today. I have been on the receiving end of milk-sharing and words cannot express what a blessing it was. I was unexpectedly hospitalized for four days. My four month old son (whom I stay home with) was cared for and fed by numerous friends and family members. We tried to give him goat milk formula but he refused it. All in all, Jericho ended up drinking six or seven different womens’ breast milk. One woman (whom I didn’t even know, she was a friend of a friend) donated hundreds of ounces that she saved from when her son was in the NICU so we even had milk to feed Jericho as I worked on building my supply back up. If I am ever given the opportunity to help in such a way, I will take it because it was an immeasurable blessing to our family!

  2. By Elly on April 11, 2011

    Personally, I think that if you have surplus milk that you can spare, then share it you should, however you feel comfortable doing so.

  3. By on April 11, 2011

    I tried milk sharing for a friend years ago when she was put on medication that precluded nursing. She would be on it for only a couple of weeks but was worried her son would not return to nursing if she went with a bottle. Sadly, he just would not nurse from me. I guess by 4 months, his preference was set for his mom only. Share the milk, YES.
      I was annoyed to see that an ice cream store in England took donor milk, pasturized it and churned it into ice cream. They called it baby gaga and it sold out in hours. That just didn’t seem right to me.

  4. By on April 11, 2011

    Yes! I believe in milk sharing in any way possible.  I shared informally with a friend’s baby that has down syndrome.  Mama was nursing her, but had some production issues due to a prior surgery.  So I supplemented her supply and the baby is thriving!  I am still nursing my toddler and have another on the way… and I can’t wait to see how my milk can help someone else down the road.  It is a priveledge to produce milk and an honor to share it.

  5. By Sarah Christensen on April 11, 2011

    Mitzie - There was a place in New York (? I think?) that sold breast-milk cheese for awhile too.

  6. By missjoules on April 11, 2011

    I was shocked (Shocked!) to discover that there was no milk banking system at the hospital where I gave birth. They deliver over 7,000 babies a year!

    I would be love to be able to donate milk. If I found someone who was okay with it, I’d be willing to hand off a bag of milk. I am not sure about wet-nursing though, I feel like breast feeding is between Robin and I. Maybe when he is a bit bigger I will be more willing to share :)

  7. By missjoules on April 11, 2011

    Oh! And the council made them take the breastmilk ice cream off the menu.

  8. By Sarah Christensen on April 11, 2011

    MissJoules - In my case, wet-nursing came up simply because a mother at a playdate had forgotten to bring a back-up bottle and couldn’t get the breastfeeding to work.  She kept trying, kept failing, kept crying, and the baby kept getting hungrier and more frantic.  I nursed the baby until he calmed down enough to have more patience - and she calmed down enough to try again and let down.  It was only a couple minutes, but it definitely changed the way I view wet-nursing.

  9. By Kimberly o'Rosky on April 11, 2011

    Yes, I too believe in milk sharing. I wish I would have been more educated about it when I needed it. I ended up in the ER 11 days postpartum with massive kidney stones. It had strained my kidney so much that I was whisked away to surgery immediately. I was an emotional mess for being taken away from my daughter so unexpectantly and for so long as well as completely panicked about how she was going to eat. She had dropped down to 5lb 9oz and was just starting to gain weight once my milk came in. yes, I wish someone had informed me that milk sharing could have been an option!!!!! I wish that doctors and nurses were more advocates of breast feeding and milk sharing. Something so natural should not be such a taboo subject.

  10. By on April 11, 2011

    Breast milk Cheese guy would be Daniel Angerer of Manhattan. It was his wifes excess breast milk though, not donor milk, and I’m not sure that they knew donating excess milk was an option. I think after the article came out the Health Department told him he couldn’t sell it in his restaurant. lol

  11. By on April 11, 2011

    I lied, I just looked it up on his blog, apparently his wife was thinking about donating but she had to get check ups and such before the bank she was looking at would take her milk. Unfortunately they were running out of space in the freezer (she was still breastfeeding) so rather than throw it out he decided to make cheese out of the overflow. This, admittedly, would not have been my first thought. ;)

  12. By on April 11, 2011

    LOL Sheila, mine either.  Although I will admit that watching Charlotte all lovey-dovey on yogurt, I have thought about pumping and trying to make yogurt for her with my milk.

    But I’m not willing to waste the milk if the yogurt doesn’t turn out.  I’d rather she or another baby take it full-strength than waste it lol.  Pumping isn’t exactly my favorite activity!

  13. By on April 11, 2011

    I wish there were more people like you in the world. That it is all.  :)

  14. By Cynthia A on April 11, 2011

    Sarah… amen.  That is all.  I believe in this fully. strongly.

  15. By on April 11, 2011

    I think milk sharing is a great idea. I’ve never done it.  I’m not sure about the milk bank…how does pasturization affect breastmilk ?

  16. By on April 11, 2011

    Absolutely it should be shared. After my first…when I realized in a few short days that my once “never before covered by a bra as they were nothing more than mere mosquito bites” breasts would create enough milk to feed ten children…I tried to donate to a bank. I called for days and days…nobody ever called me back. All of the email addresses I was given were invalid. Ugh! So frustrating. I used the milk for everything until he was well past 2. He nursed, we used it in his oatmeal, in his cereal, in hot cocoa for him!! A lot of milk went to waste as I didn’t have enough room in a freezer to store it. Around here I get looks for nursing my 18 month old! So annoying. Don’t people know??? I pray for this little Anaya.

  17. By Sarah Christensen on April 11, 2011

    Kyla - Before I mention the concerns about pasteurization of milk, I want to point out that both formal and informal milk-sharing have their hazards.  If a mother does not provide an accurate account of her medical history in an informal sharing situation, she could transmit HIV or AIDS or HepB to a child.  She can also transmit thrush, pass along unsafe medications, etc.  On the flip side, pasteurization is known to destroy enzymes and children fed pasteurized breast-milk have historically not thrived the same as children fed raw milk.

    Of course, not thriving THE SAME and not thriving AT ALL are two different beasts.  We know that children fed formula do not thrive THE SAME, but we also know that there is no such thing as ethical causation studies about the quality of infant feeding, so it’s difficult to know whether pasteurized milk is a negative thing or not.

  18. By sara on April 11, 2011

    My only experience with milk sharing came the day my daughter was born.  I had an unplanned c-section and she was born almost 3.5 weeks earlier.  My milk hadn’t come in and she was hungry.  So I paid OUT THE ASS ($8/ounce) for donor milk for her first few days of life.  Once my milk came in we experienced a happy, blissful nursing relationship for 8 weeks.  Then she developed various protein intolerances and stomach issues seemingly out of nowhere.  She wouldn’t latch anymore and screamed at my breast.  I pumped every two hours around the clock for a long time after that, but it wasn’t enough.  Her nursing was the only thing that stimulated enough production.  The level I would get at each pumping session slowly dwindled from 5 ounces per side to less than an ounce total.  We have very little money and I could not afford the high cost of donor milk from our milk bank.  Neither WIC nor my daughter’s insurance covered it.  I wish I had more options at the time.  The switch to formula killed a lot of my confidence as a mother for a long time afterward.  Bless you for sharing what you have and for giving freely of it.

  19. By sara on April 11, 2011

    **3.5 weeks EARLY, that is

  20. By Sara on April 11, 2011

    I completely 100% agree with sharing milk. My son decided he was done with breast milk right around 9 months and as I was set to get surgery and would be on lots of medication, I decided to wean him rather than really try to keep on with breastfeeding. I regret it all of the time. I wish I kept up with breastfeeding and that I made other arrangements and planned better for the nutrition he was going to receive. I had pumped and froze lots of milk but we used it up fast.

    In the beginning I looked into donating milk and was shocked to see the loop holes one would have to go through to donate it. This included all costs to properly package it and ship it (the one hospital with a milk bank is over one hour away from us). At the time of my research, I also learned that they receive no funding for their “milk bank”.

    If I had the opportunity to provide breast milk to someone that trusted me or vice versa, I would hope that we were up front with medical “issues” that could or could not affect the milk that was being given to the child. I would not accept it from someone I do not know (unless it was tested somehow).

  21. By Laura Bishop on April 11, 2011

    You are awesome for sharing your milk. I too have thought about this and have not yet done so. Do you have any website links you might share so I can put myself, (my milk) out there too?

    p.s. Can u email me please? I wouldn’t remember to check the follow up comments on this thread. Thanks so much!

  22. By Sarah Christensen on April 11, 2011

    First Sara - Your blog name CRACKS ME UP because that’s what I do.  I meet another Sara/h and I’m like WITH OR WITHOUT?! lol.

    Also, if that ever happens to you in the future, I hope you reach out.  There are so many mothers with milk to give.  I’d give a shout out for you.

    Second Sara - I’m with you on the bank donation.  The bank I donated to didn’t cover shipping and was only partially funded.  It astounded me how quickly trying to do something good for other people could turn into something I couldn’t afford to continue.  Luckily we found alternatives and now I’m more aware of several resources in my local area than I was when I first gave birth.

    I have to assume that most people are up front about medical issues that might involve their milk, but I agree that if I needed to rely on a stranger’s milk I would prefer to have them tested.  Of course, in an emergency then all bets are off.  And I don’t know what the stats are on potentially dealing with hazardous substances or diseases via milk as compared to potentially dealing with hazardous conditions or substances via formula, either, but it just seems like it doesn’t need to be that difficult to encourage RESPONSIBLE milk-sharing, even informally.

  23. By Sarah Christensen on April 11, 2011

    Laura - I’ll e-mail you in a little while; Charlotte’s just coming out of her afternoon nap.  I know you might not check back, but if you do, I haven’t forgotten, I’ll send you an e-mail tonight!

  24. By Bree on April 11, 2011

    I never have much milk, just barely over what my Little needs, but reading on the Eat on Feets facebook page there was a mom there, struggling to feed her child, and was not able to produce enough. She pumps constantly and still has 5oz more a day she needs. I started donating to her last week, and now pump twice extra a day for her. My supply is regulating to feed two babies and I’m amazed that not only am i keeping my child alive and healthy, I am not helping someone else.
    Her children are close in age to mine, and we are starting up a friendship that I hope lasts a long time.

  25. By Stephanie on April 11, 2011

    I think sharing breastmilk is awesome. I have wanted to do it, but because I’m on medication, I’ve assumed my milk would not be accepted (maybe it would? I should really check it out).

    Good for you for getting the word out. Momma’s who want breastmilk absolutely should be able to have that option.

  26. By Mary @ Parenthood on April 11, 2011

    I looked into milk banks when Elizabeth was new and I was producing ounces and ounces of excess milk without even pumping.  IE feed on one side, hold container up to other tap and fill as if it was a soda dispenser.

    Turns out I’m ineligible because I lived in Europe during the 80s.  Same reason I’m not welcome to donate blood.  Ended up throwing out a lot of breast milk, but what else could I do? Didn’t know anyone personally and In our area midwives and other professionals who might know someone needing milk are not allowed act as matchmakers.  Or so I was told.  Frustrating because my midwife told me they had a woman who was struggling with supply and here I was with an oversupply.  Midwife was frustrated too but careful to work in the system (don’t want to give any ammunition to those who don’t think we should have midwives at all!)

  27. By Sarah Christensen on April 11, 2011

    Mary - Around here, tons of people have midwives.  Especially if they have Kaiser insurance, which many people do, or if they’re into birth centers and home births, which seem to be growing in popularity in my area.  You’re in friendly territory =)

  28. By Mary @ Parenthood on April 11, 2011

    What I meant was that midwives here in Ottawa couldn’t give the woman with supply issues my name (I believe not legal to milk share but not 100% sure, comes back to raw milk issues). Midwives here are legal but only recently covered under OHIP (our health care system).  So they are extra careful to make sure they work within the system even if it means that one mom is forced to formula and another is throwing out breastmilk!

  29. By on April 11, 2011

    Another great post Sarah.  With my first child I had a little bit of extra milk since he would not take it in a bottle that I had pumped thinking that he would.  But when I looked into donating it to a milk bank I found out that I didn’t have enough.  Now maybe when I am done feeding my second little one I can donate my left over milk to a momma/child that needs it.  Thank you for posting this, I never knew about these milk sharing networks.

  30. By on April 11, 2011

    Just this week a friend nursed my baby for me.  We left Ada for the evening with my MIL and she wouldn’t take the bottle of breast milk I had left for her—maybe it had been frozen too long? don’t know because she had always taken it before.

    Anyway, we were an hour away when my MIL called with Ada screaming in the background.  I called my friend who lives across the road from us for help for my MIL until I could get home and she offered to nurse her for me.  I never would have asked and honestly didn’t even think about it before she offered, but I was so grateful!  When I got home my baby was asleep in her arms and I was SO thankful, I could have kissed her!  There is something about hearing your baby cry with hunger that is heartbreaking.

  31. By MOMSICLE VIBE on April 11, 2011

    Sarah, what could I possibly add?  You have nailed it.  I am in complete agreement.  I could never produce for a pump so I have never donated to a bank, but I certainly would nurse a child if there was ever a need.

  32. By Sarah Christensen on April 11, 2011

    Momsicle - Could you ever hand-express?  The weirdest thing is that I used to be excellent with a pump, but now I can pump forever and not produce an ounce, but I can hand-express like nobody’s business.

  33. By on April 11, 2011

    When my mother was born (90 years ago!) her mother (my grandmother) had so much breast milk that while she was still in the hospital (back then you stayed for 10 days or more) she was asked if she would nurse another woman’s baby. The other woman had complications from the delivery and was unable to feed her own baby at the time. My grandmother loved telling this story, how she (a tiny little woman with tiny little breasts) was able to keep TWO babies alive at the same time. She told that story with such a sense of pride and wonder that it make a huge impression on me when I was a little girl. I knew I would want to nurse my babies when I grew up. I never had the opportunity to “share my milk”, but I knew in my heart that I would do so willingly, if ever asked.

  34. By Sweepstaker on April 11, 2011

    Wow, not a lot of mothers are going to think of sharing more milk for other, but you are great for doing it. :)

  35. By on April 12, 2011

    When I first heard of informal milk sharing a few weeks ago, it made me uncomfortable at first, but honestly it was because I have NEVER heard of it and didn’t understand!  I had never heard of a wet nurse or volunteering milk to another mother to feed her child.  I think just simply talking about the subject is a step in the right direction to help families get the necessary breastmilk they need for their little ones.  Unfortunately, I struggle myself with milk supply and would not be able to donate, but I would absolutely be willing to help if I had the chance!

  36. By Sarah Christensen on April 12, 2011

    Lynn - That’s an awesome story!!  I hope sometime that I’m able to make such a positive impression in my own children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren’s minds when it comes to something I’m passionate about and proud of!

    Stephanie - Before I had a baby, breastfeeding grossed me out and wet-nursing SUPER grossed me out.  Even after Charlotte was born, I thought about quitting breastfeeding because I didn’t like the constant physical contact - especially on my breasts (I also didn’t care for the pain or the mastitis lol).  It’s amazing to me even now that I’ve done such a 180, but I think you’re right, I think it’s because when we talk about these ideas and actions, we become more familiar with them and more accepting of them.  And the more we talk about them, the more interested we are in learning more about them too, so the more educated we become as well.  So three cheers for talking!

  37. By on April 13, 2011

    Sarah, this doesn’t exactly answer your question, but i wanted to tell you how much i enjoy reading you and how much i respect you:
    without claiming you’re better than anybody else, you seem to strive every day to do what’s best for the world, the others and yourself. you always admit your faults and you always try harder at being better.
    working hard for what you believe in is something we should all do (i think) so we don’t end up with regrets about ourselves and the way we are handling our lives.
    it means frustration, sadness, tiredness, but also great joy and great pride, and hope.
    but it also means judgment from other people who don’t share your opinion, and a lot of dissapointment, and that’s what im having a hard time with lately.

    anyways a lot of rambling to say: good job ! good luck ! thank you !

  38. By on April 17, 2011

    God bless you for recognizing that mothers that feed their babies formula are not evil, abusive women.  Sometimes pumping, prescriptions, and sleepless nights (and days!) simply don’t allow a mother to produce enough milk.  As long as a baby is fed and gains weight, then everything is good.  And yes…I think milk banks are wonderful, and I wish that more women had access to them.





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