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!


  1. "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." and, "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 serious harm to our children. Stop and think about why we are feeding them donated milk in the first place. Because we want what is best for them. Period."

    Beautifully said!!!

  2. So much for loving women and NO PATRIARCHY, eh? :(

  3. It is good to know that there are women out there who donate their breastmilk. Unfortunately, I may be needing donated milk myself for my 3 month old son in the future. He has never taken to nursing, (he will just sit and scream while I try to nurse him) so I have just pumped for him, and lately my milk supply has been dropping significantly, which breaks my heart! I hate to admit it but there have been days that I have had no choice but to send him to the sitter's with formula. :( I would be interested in knowing how I could possibly become a recipient of donated milk. Any suggestions on how to do this? Please feel free to contact me through email..

  4. Brenda Sue- just find the Eats on Feet or Human Milk 4 Human Babies chapter for your state on facebook, then post your story there. I have donated twice through the Eats on Feets for Illinois on Facebook.

  5. I LOVE THIS POST. It deserves a capslock statement! Thank you to all the women out there who donate milk. It is such a selfless gift to those who need it.

  6. thank you for writing such wonderful words!! :)

    and yes, do please find your babies some human milk locally, there's a community practically everywhere in this WORLD!!! (

  7. Thank you so much for writing this! I just agreed to donate. The mom is the quiet type and I've been wondering what her thoughts are on the matter. This gives me a bit of a peek into her head :) I say kudos to you mom's who, as a friend said, "don't let your egos get in the way of doing what's best for your baby." I can imagine it's a hard decision to make, but you do it anyway, and I think that's awesome. I always tell my husband to find a donor if something should happen to me before our son is weaned. I hope that my donating is good karma for us!

  8. TBH I didn't apply words such as "risks" and "dangerous" to milk sharing until the media started using such words. To think that a mom who is currently feeding her milk to HER child and is also taking the time to PUMP and STORE milk, then get online and find a mama in need and OFFER it for think that such a mom has "risky" or "dangerous" milk is absurd.

    A mom who goes through all that effort and is organized, is not a diseased-ridden, drug-popping lunatic, trying to kill your child.

    And for that matter, maybe we should be questioning the motive of multi-billion dollar companies who stand to profit by feeding our children processed, reconstituted, contaminated animal milk that is not even FDA approved.

    For every time a person tells me the FDA does not approve of milksharing, I get to smile and say, "The FDA does not approve of formula, either."

  9. I share milk. I am an organic, all-natural, farmer's market shopping, non-drug taking, chiropractor's wife. I research everything to death, I take prenatals, I take mercury free fish oil, I walk daily. I co-sleep, I have a master's degree, I have a doctorate degree, I have a bachelors degree, I own a house, I have never had a STD. Should I go on?

    Again, I am a milk donor. I offer my blood test results to every person I have donated to (there have been two), and they both declined.

    I feel so fortunate that I could help two very special boys grow up into the healthy little toddlers they are.

  10. brilliant post and food for thought (you see what i did there he he)

    i wasn't really up to speed with milk sharing when i had my daughter but with number 2 i will be milk sharing if i can (and looking further than my local hospital to do it) and if i do have any problems feeding number 2 myself i hope i'm lucky enough to find a doner too.

    i think theres a new wave of parents coming that will do anything to avoid artifically feeding thier babies - watch out nestle :-)

  11. I was SO in your shoes with my daughter 5 years ago and wept and wept over not being able to nurse my baby. I would have done milksharing in a heartbeat if I had known about it. BRAVO! BRAVO to you, Courageous Mama!

  12. I had a tough time initially establishing supply for my now 3-year-old. Once I was all set though, I made WAY more than enough milk. At one time I had nearly 100-5oz bags of fresh-frozen breastmilk in my freezer. I was looking for a place to donate most of it and all I found was a Canadian MilkBank which required all kinds of crazy rigor-moro for me to have used (I'm in the US, and figuring out how to get it over the border, was way TOO complicated). If I'd known about Eats on Feet or other organizations I could have fullfilled my wish to help a woman and her baby. Instead, it just started to expire (got to be more than 6 months old in the freezer) and go to waste since we couldn't use it fast enough. (I was pumping at work and nursing at home, and after he started solids, I was still producing but not using as much).
    We are trying for baby number 2 now. I will definitely put some more informed energy into finding a great outlet for safely sharing my extra milk with a mom in need next time around!

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.


    This is awesome ^^ here is my story from the other side as a milk donor!

  15. What a wonderful, wonderful post! I know that, for me, the risks of formula would be much scarier than any potential risks of getting donated breast milk!

    I hate that the media is portraying milksharing as so dangerous for the poor little babies whose mothers don't know enough to just give them the Holy formula rather than disgusting milk from (gasp!) another person!! It's "boob juice", for goodness' sake!

    Hopefully posts like this will open some people's eyes to what an important option milksharing is, and the thought and care that goes into it.

  16. Thank you so much for your article. As a new mother who has suffered through postpartum thyroidism that made my milk supply plummet, I understand the decision to feed your child what you feel is best for them.
    My poor daughter and I struggled through almost 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding and we were both so miserable. She was stuck in the 10% for her weight those 6 months and hungry all the time. I was crying, feeling like a failure and feeling pressure from all around me to move to formula. We decided to make our own formula (which people thought was insane, for some reason). And she finally started becoming a happier baby.
    Then a girlfriend approached me about how much milk she was producing and offered to give me her run off. I gladly accepted and now my baby is back to being exclusively breastmilk fed. She is happy, healthy and in the 75% now. All smiles from this momma and baby. I am SO UNBELIEVABLY HAPPY AND THANKFUL for my friends sacrifice to give me milk for my little girl.

  17. Fantastic article , couldnt agree more. donors Are heros

  18. Brenda Sue, have you tried finding a like minded mom and offering to nurse her "good nursing" baby? Sometimes to avoid losing milk, you need to stimulate it... and well, a hungry, good latching baby will do the trick! Then pump in between ... but the real "action" will help production.

  19. Awesome post, Bekki! I was on the opposite end last year when we moved. I started pumping milk for our baby from the beginning, just to ensure that I would have sufficient supply once I would go back to work. When we moved (she was 2 months old), I had a freezer full of pumped milk I didn't use and eventually had to toss. I tried to find a way to get them to a milk bank or get in contact with someone who might have been able to use it for its intended purpose, but all I found was some sicko in his late 20s who wanted to nurse or purchase breast milk (of course, I did NOT contact him). My heart bled when I tossed all those baggies in the trash, because I knew it could have nourished another child somewhere. Kudos for you for doing what's best for your baby, despite the opposition!

  20. If I could not nurse my children, I would be looking for donor milk. But I'm one of those "Crazies" that nurses well into toddlerhood ;-)

  21. I have been pumping and bottle feeding my son for the last 10 months (he will be 10 months in 5 days) and I am a donator. :) I will proudly proclaim it to anyone who asks too! I am PROUD to be able to help mothers feed their children every drop of nutrients their bodies need!

  22. Awesome! Although, in truth, there is still much more risk in driving to the store than there is in milk sharing when both are done safely. Comparing the two is really not the same.

    This is such a great article! I'm so glad you were able to find mamas to help you. :)

  23. Everything old is new again:-) My grandma was the second of 13 children. Her third child was just a few months younger than her mom's youngest. Her mom became ill and couldn't nurse anymore so Grandma sent milk over for her own brother a few times a day. Both babies grew up good and strong.
    This is such a great idea! I will keep notes on it for future reference.

  24. Great Post! I fed my daughter donated breast milk for 22 months, thanks to contacts made at local moms groups and through MilkShare. And my husband flew across the country three times to get it! Definitely in the "nut" category, but it is that important to give my baby the best.

  25. "Just yesterday, I put my kids in their car seats and drove to the store." PERFECT ANALOGY.

    This blog has had me at the edge of tears from the first paragraph to the last. (Still fighting them back.)When I was in the hospital, one of my dearest friends volunteered some of her supply to my daughter. I didn't think of it as gross in anyway. I knew she was a milk donor, and didn't put much thought towards it since she was. In a situation where a woman offered me milk that hadn't been screened, I would pause and give it more thought. I am grateful that I didn't have to so that she was able to hear my immediate response of unbridled gratitude. It's one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given for sure at one of the hardest times in my life.

  26. Your story puts a relate-able person behind something that sounds strange to so many. Thank you for your story.

  27. My sister and I had our babies within three months of each other and she was struggling with producing enough milk (and I had too much) and because I couldn't use a pump (too much pain!!) and couldn't hand express enough to work up a stash, she would often come over so her son could nurse. We got so many ugly responses from her husband's family that she eventually put her son on formula but I was thrilled that I could help as long as I did. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    Thanks for the article!!

  28. In desperate need of some breast milk. Mother (my sister) is going through postpartum psychosis, and is not always able to breast feed. I would greatly appreciate it if you would contact me and give me some pointers, or I would gladly purchase milk from you if that was a possibility.

  29. Njos Family, please direct your sister over to facebook and have her join her chapters of Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies and sign up for a account. Plenty of donors out there!

    What I find so disheartening about people who are disgusted by milksharing is the complete lack of education on the risks of formula. Baby formula can contain any number of contaminating particles and is not recalled unless a certain number of parents make a report of it. There is no specific monitoring of each formula batch and powdered formula, the cheapest and most often used form of artificial milk is not sterile. If prepared improperly (not boiled and put into fully sterilized bottles or containers) it can contain bacteria which causes deadly infections.

    Even in the worst case scenario, there ARE ways to pasteurize breast milk to make it safer on a consumer level. The same cannot be said for formula as it is not a pure milk product.

  30. Oh thank you so much for writing this. I cannot tell you the frustration, heartbreak and tears I went through trying to breast feed my daughter. After a lengthy and traumatic c-section birth she refused the nipple from the word go and my milk never really came in due to my body being completely trashed from the surgery. I wept feeding her formula and wept harder as she vomited most of it back up every time. Neither my midwife, the nurses, my mother or my lactation consultant could make my baby suck. Thank God for donor milk. She's now 5 months old and thriving, no more vomiting, no more screaming after every feed. I cannot express the relief and the gratitude I have towards the women who've fed my baby and given her the best start in life.

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  33. 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. Baby Milk Formula