Thursday, June 16, 2011

Just Because We Can't Breastfeed Doesn't Mean We're Stupid

Two healthy donor-milk fed babies!
Human milksharing has received quite a bit of media attention lately. Up until recently, most people didn’t even know that anyone still practiced it. Honestly, I didn’t know until I was presented with a terrible predicament over two years ago. I had just given birth to my first child, but I was not producing any breastmilk. I received help from an IBCLC and my doula. Both gave me their best advice and support. My doula brought new herbs to my home every few days in hopes that we would find something to help. She cried almost as much as I did over the fact that I had to feed my baby formula.

By the time my daughter was a week old, my herculean efforts to increase my milk supply still had no effect. Despite several different herbs, around-the-clock nursing and pumping in between, my breasts were apparently on strike. They had abandoned the precious task that they were created for, no matter how much I cried and begged.

I still remember the phone conversation with my Darlene, my doula. “Please don’t think I’m a fruit loop.” She said, almost timidly. “I’ll try ANYTHING!” was my reply.

She took a deep breath. “Jen (her partner doula) is nursing her 3 month old and she has extra milk. She wants to give you some to feed Evelyn while you work on getting your milk supply up.”

This was a very pivotal moment for me. I can see why Darlene was worried that I would consider her a “fruit loop”. We live in a society that is absolutely terrified of just about anything breastmilk-related. We look down on mothers who nurse in public, ask them to feed their babies under a stuffy blanket or in a bathroom. And if we see a woman nursing a toddler? Forget it! What a nut! If the child is old enough to ask for it, he’s too old to nurse, right?

That’s the way we treat women and their breasts today. We get so squeamish about mothers feeding their own babies because we want to regard their breasts not as blessed tools for nourishing our young, but as sexual play things for men to drool over, and the media to boost ratings with.

So where does milkSHARING actually fit in? Certainly, that must fall in the category of COMPLETE NUTCASE LEVEL 10, right? Do we dare to even so much as THINK about the idea of breastmilk leaving one woman’s breast and feeding another woman’s child? Now, that’s a whole new level of weird that apparently, the world just isn’t ready for.

But in that moment when I was faced with the choice – the choice to feed my baby milk from another human or milk from another SPECIES, the answer felt like a no-brainer. “I would love that! Thank you so much!”

The next day, Darlene came over with a grocery bag filled with little frozen bags of liquid beauty. She taught me all about how to store, thaw, and warm the milk safely. The relief that I felt was immeasurable. I had never seen so much breastmilk in one place before! I was so happy to supplement my baby with milk that was created specifically for human babies to eat. This generous mother opened her heart and her milk ducts to MY baby, whom she had never even met. She gave her milk that had been pumped for HER child. What a beautiful testament to human kindness.

She made two donations. I wish I could remember exactly how much they totaled. She wasn’t able to continue to donate because she had to build up a stash for her child so that she could return to work. Within a couple of weeks, we ran out of milk and Evelyn was back on formula.

Weeks later, I shared my story with a friend of mine who is an outspoken proponent of breastfeeding. She told me about an organization called MilkShare – a website where moms with extra milk could connect with mothers of babies who need it.

I logged on immediately and found the group. As soon as I was signed up, I went to work searching for milk.

The platform was very different back then. There were no Facebook groups or message boards for milksharing. MilkShare was just a Yahoo group at this point in time. Every time a new message was posted, members received an e-mail. You had to be quick to respond, because milk went pretty fast. I set things up so that I would receive an alert on my phone every time that e-mail account received a message. I have lost count of how many times I heard a little chime from my phone and dropped everything to RUN to the computer and check my e-mail. I would just hope and pray that the new message was an offer for milk somewhere in my own state.

I posted my story and my plea for milk. Within the first few days, a mom from New York City responded and told me that she had about 600oz of milk to give. We live a couple hours north of the city. So, I made arrangements for a meeting. I was nervous about driving down there with a baby, so my husband took a day off from work and went, himself. He took a train all the way down along with two big, insulated bags. He got to the donor mom’s house and she filled the bags, and he carried them all the way back home. He is and will always be my hero for doing this.

My husband wasn’t always 100% on board with using donated milk, though. I remember our conversation before bed the night before his trip. We both felt a little uneasy about this new experience. It was one thing to feed Evelyn milk from a friend, but another thing entirely to feed her milk from a stranger. I had never met this woman face-to-face, and she was going to give my baby breastmilk?

We had a long talk about it. We went over both of our fears and discussed them at length. Ultimately, we both knew deep down inside that this was a GOOD thing for our daughter.

The donor mom had provided us with copies of her most recent bloodwork to show that she was free of most diseases that can be passed through breastmilk. She told us that she ate a healthy diet and did not take any drugs that would be harmful if passed through the breastmilk. She was feeding this milk to her OWN babies. We felt that it was safe to assume that she wasn’t knowingly harming her own children.

My husband and I both made an informed CHOICE to feed this milk to our daughter. We considered many factors when we made this decision – the risks of formula, allergies, blood test results, etc. We made sure before feeding her milk to our daughter that we were completely comfortable with it.

With all of the recent media attention that modern milksharing has received, some people (especially the FDA) have decided that they need to step in and say something. At this point in time, they do advise against mom-to-mom milksharing because of the risks involved. Personally, I think that this has more to do with the fact that the FDA has no control over women’s breasts – and we all know just how much they like to control us!

Most moms who feed their babies donated milk know the risks. We are well aware of the dangers of feeding our children milk from a mom who has a disease or takes drugs (both medicinal and recreational) while she is breastfeeding. The government, pediatricians and even some lactation consultants have made the risks very well known. They would rather see babies on “donated”, processed cow’s milk than on fresh, donated human milk.

What really bothers me about a lot of what I hear lately is that these people apparently think that we’re stupid. Many of them really seem to believe that just because THEY said that milksharing is not safe (in their opinion), that we shouldn’t do it.

Here’s the truth: Those of us who feed our babies donated breastmilk are not a bunch of overzealous lactivist lunatics. We are parents who want what is best for our children, and our view of what is best obviously differs from that of some people.

As parents, we take calculated risks with our children every single day. Just yesterday, I put my kids in their car seats and drove to the store, knowing full well that there was a miniscule chance that we could have been in a horrible accident and been hurt or killed. I did my best to safeguard them from such a tragedy – I strapped them properly into approved car seats, which were installed in a safe vehicle. I drove carefully, obeying the rules of the road and watched for anyone who may have been driving in an unsafe manner close to us. I took every precaution that I could to ensure their safety. All of my efforts couldn't absolutely guarantee a safe trip, but I did everything in my power to make it as safe as possible.

Feeding your child donated breastmilk is very similar to driving to the store. There will always be risk involved. Do your best to mitigate the risk and do it in a way that you feel comfortable.

WE are the parents. WE decide what is best for our children – not health professionals, and not the government. We make INFORMED CHOICES every single day.

We moms are a lot smarter than you think. Don’t think for a second that we would recklessly feed our babies food that could cause them serious harm. Stop and think about why we are feeding them donated milk in the first place. Because we want what is best for them. Period.

We are mothers and fathers – protectors and guardians of our children. We know better than ANYONE else what is in the best interest of our babies. We are intelligent, and fully capable of deciding whether donated breastmilk is safe for our babies or not.

If any of you have any questions about MilkSharing, please join our Facebook page! Modern Milksharing

Picture: Two HEALTHY, donor milk fed babies!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Which Cooler Should I Use?

I have put together this little guide to help give you all an idea of which size cooler to choose when you are going to ship breastmilk.

It is important to point out that there is no way to guarantee that a certain cooler will perfectly fit X number of ounces of milk. The amount of milk that a cooler will hold depends on several factors - how the milk is frozen (flat or not), whether or not you are using dry ice(and how much of it), and how the cooler is packed.

Unfortunately, choosing the right size cooler is more of a guessing game than an exact science. However, I can share with you what has worked for me over several shipments of milk. I think I have a fairly decent handle on things at this point, so this should be relatively accurate.

Let me also take this moment to remind you that if you are shipping less than 300oz of milk, you absolutely, positively MUST use dry ice. It doesn't matter if you are shipping overnight. Anything less than 300oz (500oz in summer) is too risky to send without it.

During the summer months, I recommend using dry ice on all shipments under 600oz that will be in transit for more than one day. As always, make sure the coolers are packed properly with as little extra airspace as possible.

For up to 500oz of milk, I recommend this cooler:

Mr.Box Online - Superior Cooler

In my experience, this cooler can hold up to 550oz of milk (if frozen flat, closer to 500oz otherwise). If you are sending a smaller amount, this cooler may seem big, but keep in mind the need for dry ice. You will need the extra space. Just make sure to fill the rest with paper.

For 1 day shipping, use at least 5-8lbs of dry ice. For 2 day shipping, at least 10-15 lbs.

For up to 1000oz of milk, I recommend this cooler:

Mr.Box Online - Extra Large Cooler

In my experience, this cooler can hold up to 1000oz of milk (frozen flat, closer to 900 otherwise). 900oz will generally keep itself nice and cold without dry ice, but in the warmer months, it's always safest to include some dry ice.

For 1 day shipping, use at least 8-10lbs of dry ice, for 2 day shipping, use at least 15lbs of dry ice.

For up to 1400oz of milk, I recommend this cooler:

MrBox Online - Jumbo Cooler

Laura and I used this cooler once. She shipped me 1300oz of milk, frozen flat. There was still room for 4-6 boxes of baby cereal, which she used for insulation.

Be warned that a cooler this size filled with frozen milk is extremely heavy. I believe our shipment weighed in at around 100lbs.

If using dry ice, I recommend at least 15lbs. However, when Laura shipped this to me, she sent it 2-day and UPS lost the package. It ended up being in transit for 6 days, rather than 2. I was worried sick, but when the package finally arrived, all of the milk was still frozen solid - even the fresh milk she had packed in there at the last minute froze. The more milk you ship at once, the safer your shipment is without dry ice. But bear in mind, this shipment took place in the winter time. I don't think we would have had such a happy outcome had it been summer.

Remember that when you ship breastmilk, there are all sorts of things that come into play: transit time, the weather, how the milk has been packed, etc. It's always best to spend the extra money to err on the side of caution (i.e. shorter shipping time, using dry ice) to avoid losing a shipment of precious breastmilk for your baby.