A little over a year ago I had a postpartum client who was going to have a medical procedure shortly after she had given birth. Her physician told her the medications she was going to be given would not allow her to nurse for about 30 hours. Because of how close to her son's birth date this was she did not have any milk stored in her freezer or fridge. She called me and asked what her options were. I gave her two; 1. you can use formula or 2. you can use another mother's milk. This is called milk sharing, or finding a donor.
She did some thinking and reading and decided that she would trust me to find a mother to find her some extra milk. I asked a good friend of mine who's life style I knew was safe, or would at least tell us that her milk was unsafe to use if that were the case. Also I chose to call someone who also had a very young baby. It was important to me that if the baby who was going to need the milk was a newborn (just days old) we found milk that was from a mother with as young of a baby as we could find.
Once the deal was arranged, my client drove over to my friends home and picked up a cooler of milk, about 28 ounces. Took it home and everything worked out fine.
While this story sounds a bit weird to some people, sharing human milk, it is an ancient practice that goes back as far as humans have been having babies and nursing them.
My grandma's mother had a postpartum illness that caused her to choose not to breastfeed her. This was before you could run out and buy a can of formula. My grandmother's older sister who was nine years old would carry her down the street each time grandma was hungry and the neighbor would nurse her. It was her only option and I'm so glad she did it!
However, NPR thinks its a new topic to talk about... MOM'S WHO CAN'T BREAST-FEED FIND MILK ONLINE
The basic story line is that mothers who, for whatever reason, may not have enough milk, find a donor through some virtual community including Facebook. That's fine, what bother's me is that some person at the FDA says that Milk Sharing puts babies at "risk". And to that I say, BOOO blah blah blah. Sure if you use milk from a person who lives a "risky" life style or did. But these women are looking at their donors prenatal panel, asking health and life style questions. My guess is that some formula company found out that a bunch of women are choosing human milk over formula and they are not happy about it. I mean can you imagine the nerve, women freely giving each other their breast milk to nourish babies. There are no regulations, rules, corporations, policies, monies being exchanged, no one is getting rich off the idea... just a bunch of moms, with breast pumps taking care of each other, each others babies.
Here is what bother's me about this whole thing, if you can't already tell:
1. Milk sharing exists, and has for a long time. Longer than the existence of the FDA that's for sure. People who put time and energy into choosing to find donor breast milk are smart enough to ask, "Do you use drugs, share needles, had a blood transfusion, have or been exposed to HIV..." They are looking at prenatal panels, and trusting one another. I have my doubts that some drug addict who shares needles with the hobo down the street would want to take the time to pump out extra milk, store it, and give it away...for free. I mean pumping milk is so fun and all, that I'm sure women are lining up to give their milk away. Dear lord people give me a break. Of all the things that the FDA needs to be worrying about, a group of "crunchy" women nourishing each others babies is not one of them.
2. It makes me sad for our society that we have become so isolated from our community (not your town, but your family, best and most trusted friends) that we have to find mothering support from a virtual source. When my grandmother was a newborn even her nine year old sister knew how to get milk for her. Before the days of formula, if a mother needed milk for her baby beyond what she was able to supply, her sister, cousin, sister-in-law, best friend, neighbor would just nurse the baby for her. When a woman needed mothering support she walked through her back gate to visit the neighbor. The shift in our society that has moved us away from family, away from our neighborhoods where we grew up, to places that are unfamiliar. It has pulled the rug of support out from under our feet. I'm not saying that virtual networks/communities are bad, there are mothers living in very remote places (military wives for one--thank you for your service and sacrifice) who find much comfort and companionship from these sources. But what I am saying is that, online milk sharing is not a new thing, the online part is, but the sharing part is not. While it would be wonderful if your sister or best friend lived a few blocks away to bring you her extra breast milk, this is not the support every woman has today. And I'm sad that this is not the way our lives are.
3. If this truly is a formula conspiracy behind the FDA "fear" warning, I want to say this. There are many many babies out there who cannot drink formula because it is not made out of human milk. Most formulas are made out of bovine or soy products, and there are many infants who are not be able to consume this substitute. There are many babies out there who are drinking formula and having many problems due to the consumption of this product (allergies, rashes, respiratory problems, constipation...). For these babies I am so grateful that milk sharing exists, or that it is an option. Please don't regulate milk sharing making it unavailable to children who could have the chance at becoming healthy.
Finally, I want to be clear that this post is not about formula fed babies, or is it meant to make parents who choose formula feel bad about their choice. This post is about how normal milk sharing is and to share my opinion about "policy" getting involved in the process of mothers nurturing one another's babies together, as a community. And to tell the formula companies to keep their greedy fingers to themselves. You have plenty of customers, if a few mothers out there are not choosing you I think you'll survive. Besides milk sharing was here first, so back off.