Most women who give birth can breastfeed their babies. If this were not the case then we would have died out as a species long ago! Yet there are some circumstances where a woman is just not able to breastfeed for physical or psychological reasons. Breastfeeding women have been feeding each other’s babies since the beginning of time. And why wouldn’t we?!
We are a generous bunch! Other animals will feed a baby born to a different mother (even of a different species) and humans are just as generous and willing to help those who cannot provide breastmilk, or enough breastmilk for their own babies. Donor milk is available through milk banks yet there are only a few milk banks within Australia and the milk which is kept in these banks are given to premature babies who need this milk the most. Since donor milk from these banks can be very difficult to access for your baby unless you fall into a certain category (premature or very sick baby) women have gone through other channels to access milk. “Informal Milk Sharing” or as I like to call, just doing what we have been doing since FOREVER!…happens through word of mouth and online. There are amazing organizations called Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats On Feets which provide an online platform to connect donors with women in need of milk for their babies. Women seek donor milk for many different reasons. The following story is just one example of breastfeeding mums helping each other out. 😀
Brogan’s story is one of sheer determination, incredible strength and motivation to give her baby girl breastmilk. After her first child was born she was unable to make enough breastmilk to feed him exclusively. She had a traumatic birth and although she pumped and did everything she could to produce more milk, in the end she was not able to exclusively breastfeed him. The second time around she knew more, had done her research and realized that she had insufficient glandular breast tissue.
“Armed with all of the knowledge and information, I was able to take steps antenatally, such as taking galactogogues and breast massage, to improve my chances of successful lactation, but I also prepared for the likely scenario of having to supplement at least some of the time. I got a supply line and had some breastmilk from a friend already stored for if I needed it. My regular donations were mostly from my local homebirthing community, but I sourced others through Human Milk 4 Human Babies and also through mutual friends, etc.” Brogan remembers.
She not only found women who would willingly donate breastmilk and/or directly breastfeed Junipah (wet-nurse) but to date she has had over fifty women donate milk for her, who is now twenty months old. Incredible! So awesome!
Many women are concerned about diseases and illnesses which can pass through breastmilk. Donor milk from a milk bank is screened and pasteurized. Some women wonder, “how is this safe if you don’t know the person and it is not coming from a milk bank?!” I asked Brogan what she thought about this and the following is what she had to say:
“Screening for transmissible diseases is available and is routinely done as part of antenatal blood work ups. Mothers who spend the immense amount of time and effort required to donate, are also feeding their own child/children, whom they most certainly would not be putting in harm’s way. Full disclosure is expected and willingly provided with regard to medication and diet. The only milk I have ever rejected was milk produced during antibiotic courses.”
Some women choose to flash pasteurize the milk at home, others will ask mums for test results which show that they are negative for diseases which can pass through milk. Other women will only accept breastmilk from friends or family members they know well. There are also special considerations when a mum is seeking milk for a premature baby. Eats On Feets and Human Milk For Human Babies have excellent resources and information on their websites, for women who are seeking more information on this topic. Of course this is just one tool for women to research and learn more about milk sharing. There are many other websites and resources available for women to help make informed choices. The American website for the Center For Disease Control has a page which discusses when it is advisable a mother does not breastfeed and what can be passed through her milk. Please contact me if you would like more information or resources about this topic.
Brogan is continuing to breastfeeding Junipah at twenty months old. She hooks up the supply line but only rarely uses donor milk, now she mostly uses goat’s milk. Breastfeeding is about much more than just nutrition. It is about comfort, bonding, closeness and an important part of mothering for many of us.
The World Health Organisation recommends the following for babies if their mother cannot breastfeed. The order is in preference from most preferred to least preferred; expressed breastmilk from the infant’s own mother , donated breastmilk from a healthy wet-nurse or human milk bank, formula.
Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, World Health Oragnization
*This post is not written as medical advice but as a tool to help women make an informed decision in regards to milk sharing and donor milk. Each woman and baby are in their own unique circumstance. Please contact me if you would like more information on this topic.