Tag Archives: breastfeeding

Got extra milk? Share it.

This week is World Milksharing week and my friend E wrote this piece about her experience receiving donor breastmilk for her daughter. I asked her if I could share it because I think it’s important for people to hear about positive sharing experiences. Maybe it will alleviate stress for some new families, or open up previously unconsidered avenues for others.

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September 24-30th is World Milksharing Week, and since I have been directly affected by milksharing, I wanted to take some time to share my story and bring your attention to this issue. First, some background from the WMW website:

The World Health Organization calls for exclusive breastfeeding from birth through six months. After this time, it recommends continued breastfeeding with the addition of complementary foods through 2 years of age and beyond, as long as mutually desirable for mother and child.

We hope that by raising awareness about milksharing, families will never again feel forced into feeding breastmilk substitutes –an act which is not without risk to the health of the child. If a mother is unable to breastfeed, or unable to produce enough breastmilk, families can access the milk of another healthy woman through wet-nursing or milk donation. The incredible sense of community that is created among donor and recipient families who partake in milksharing is to be celebrated. Raising awareness about the possibility of milksharing will prevent thousands of ounces of breastmilk from being dumped down the drain by mothers who didn’t know there was another option. Breastmilk is not a scarce commodity and there are women around the world who are willing to share.

Before having my first child 6 months ago, I sincerely hoped I would be able to breastfeed, for all of the benefits it would provide both me and my daughter. I knew it might not be possible, due to a breast reduction surgery 10 years ago, but I at least wanted to try. It was extremely challenging from the very start, but I stuck with it, through painful nursing sessions, sleepless nights and latch problems. After about 3 months, I learned that despite my very best efforts, I was simply not able to produce enough milk to meet my daughter’s increasing demand as she continued to grow. I worked with a wonderful lactation consultant who assured me that while I was doing everything right, J would need supplements to what I was able to provide for her. I’m not going to lie, it was difficult news to hear. As a parent, there is nothing worse than feeling like you are not able to provide for your child, especially something so basic as the food she needs to grow and thrive. While I am in no way opposed to formula feeding, it was not the choice I had personally hoped to make, and I really wanted to provide my baby with the best possible food, breast milk, for as long as possible.

I have a friend who, coincidentally, had a baby just 4 days before I did, even though she was due more than a month after me. Her daughter had some health complications, one of which prevented her from being able to nurse. My friend actually pumped exclusively for her daughter for a whole three months (you will know this is completely amazing if you’ve ever tried pumping. There’s no way I would have been able to do it!), which resulted in her having an oversupply of milk. Even with all that she already had on her plate as a new mom to a child with atypical medical needs, she realized that her extra milk didn’t need to go to waste in the freezer. She had already been donating some of her milk, and when she found out about my situation, she offered to share her stash with Juniper and me as well.

It is impossible for me to explain how grateful I was, and continue to be, for her generosity. After so much pain, worry, sleepless nights, and unsuccessful attempts at increasing my milk supply, seeing a freezer full of milk brought peace of mind. Finally, I didn’t have to worry and fear that my baby was going hungry. By using a supplemental nursing system (a small tube that allows the baby to take extra milk or formula while still nursing at the breast), I could not only continue to give her whatever milk I was able to make, I could also know for sure that she was getting enough to eat at every feeding. The benefits were immediate–right away, J just seemed happier, more content, and the numbers on the scale finally began to move back in the right direction.

I know that plenty of people probably think it’s totally weird that I give my child another woman’s milk. Hell, I thought it was weird at first too. But I realized that it was only my cultural conditioning, honed by living in a generally breastfeeding-phobic society, that made me feel uncomfortable. The bottom line is that my baby doesn’t know the difference, and getting over my own hang-ups has allowed me to make the best choice for HER. Both my pediatrician and lactation consultant have been completely supportive and happy that I we have access to use donor milk. I only wish that more mothers knew about this option.

For most of human history, mothers have shared milk. Before formula came along, the reasons were clear–babies need to eat, babies eat milk, so when one woman couldn’t provide it for one reason or another, a friend or family member would gladly share to help the baby thrive. I have several friends who donate their milk, and I thank them and applaud them for the work they are doing. If you are a parent who is struggling with breastfeeding, or supplementing, or formula feeding, or WHATEVER, I urge you to check out the milksharing organization Human Milk 4 Human Babies. And if you happen to be one of the lucky moms with an abundant milk supply, PLEASE consider sharing the wealth. Don’t let that freezer stash go to waste–I promise you there is a mom and baby out there who would be so grateful to have it.

This weekend, J will turn 6 months old, and the last of the milk in my freezer will finally be gone. I will continue to nurse her for as long as I’m able, supplementing with formula at each feeding. Instead of feeling defeated, I now feel proud that I was able to give her a little more of that “magic juice” than I could have on my own by opening up to the idea of milksharing. For us, donor milk was absolutely the right choice, and I’m so happy that it was an option we had available.

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Readers: Have you donated breast milk? Have you used donated breast milk to feed a child? What was your experience like?

(Edit: Aktangle has a fantastic post with some amazing sharing advice for anyone considering it. A Milk Sharing How-To)

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Conversation with my father

My dad and I talk infrequently on the phone. Maybe once a month, sometimes even less often. He called this weekend and we talked about life, and nursing toddlers. It went something like this;

Me: I’m thinking about weaning O.
Him: Really? I’m surprised. I figured you’d let him wean organically when he was ready. You know, ’cause you’re kind of ‘earthy’ that way.
Me: Yeah, I know, but I’d sorta like my nights back. But I’m really excited to hear you say that you’re surprised that I’m thinking of weaning. A lot of people are surprised that I’m still nursing him. Plus, some people are weirded out that I’m nursing a toddler.
Him: Yeah, well, some people are fucking stupid.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why my dad rocks.

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Whip ‘Em Out! – It’s What Breasts are for!

This is not what I intended to put up today, but I cannot resist. Especially after yesterday’s post.

SO FULL OF AWESOME.

(h/t to PhD in Parenting for the video)

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WTF CBS?

Ladies and Gentleman, pay attention because CBS is going to enlighten us, the unenlightened, about situations where breastfeeding could get awkward.

I’ll admit, I was intrigued by the front page. There’s a very lovely picture of an angelic babe demonstrating a perfect latch while gazing lovingly at what I can only presume is mom’s face. There is no nursing cover, no sling tail, no t-shirt pulled up to the baby’s nose. Just baby’s face and mom’s breast.

The tagline reads,

“Breast is best for baby….But just where and when a woman should nurse her baby remains a matter of debate. Here are some situation that could get seriously awkward.”

I thought that since CBS had such a perfect pro-breastfeeding image up, the picture montage must have something worth reading, right? WRONG.

Let the fun begin! According to CBS, breastfeeding can get awkward:

  • In front of men (Oh noes! The men, they can’t see the breasts!)
  • In front of kids (They see worse in a commercial during the Super Bowl)
  • In a restaurant (because breast milk can transmit HIV, dontcha know? To be fair, this isn’t entirely untrue, HIV can be spread through breast milk to babies, but not adults. CBS doesn’t clarify that, though. Breast milk is NOT a biohazard, thankyouverymuch.)
  • IN PUBLIC
  • It bears repeating that CBS thinks breastfeeding can get awkward IN PUBLIC.

CBS seems to think that the only place breastfeeding won’t get awkward is in THE PRIVACY OF YOUR OWN HOME. Do you hear that breastfeeding moms? STAY HOME, lest things get awkward. (Oh, but wait – if you’re home and breastfeeding please make sure there are no men or children around, as per awkward situations 1 & 2.)

I’m so tired of this underhanded bullshit. Breast is best, but we’re going to do everything we can to undermine a woman’s decision to breastfeed by telling her that it might make other people uncomfortable, and reminding her that, as a woman, she has a cultural responsibility to not to make other people uncomfortable.

They finish each slide off with a link to “Vote now: Should moms be allowed to breast-feed anywhere?” Fortunately 89% of respondents put on their smart caps this morning and clicked the button for “Yes, women should be allowed to breastfeed anywhere.” (Why the hell this is even a discussion is beyond me…oh wait, because 4% of respondents think babies in public should be eating from bottles, or starving until they can be sequestered in a private space alone. Possibly in the dark too, so that the baby doesn’t see mom’s breast.)

Breasts are for feeding, CBS. Wrap your brains around it. Make peace with it. Move on to something important.

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Nursing strike – Part 2

This breastfeeding thing is hard. Seriously. I thought all the hard stuff ended at 18 weeks. Ha! So, SO wrong.

Last week O took a 2 day breastfeeding “break.” From 10 a.m. on Thursday until 3 a.m. Saturday morning, he nursed twice. This is a kid who usually nurses every 3-4 hours. He missed about 7 feedings. I spent most of the day on Friday trying to get him to drink expressed milk from a sippy cup, because I was so worried about him becoming dehydrated in the 80+ degree weather. (For the record, he wasn’t really interested in the sippy cup, or the bottle N tried to give him. All the literature I read said to try to avoid bottles during strikes, but I finally relented because I was so worried about the TWO wet diapers he’d had in the past 24 hours.)

What was more striking than worrying about him, was how devastated I was by this sudden shift from breastfeeding. I was very surprised by my reaction. I’ve spent many, many hours over the past 11 months thinking about weaning. I thought about it a week after we came home from the hospital. I thought about it when he was 7 months old and still waking up 3 times a night to nurse. I thought about it when he would nurse for HOURS in a day. I thought about it when N started giving him a bottle at bedtime a few weeks ago. All that thinking did not prepare me for how invested I’ve become in this nursing relationship.

If you had asked me last week how important breastfeeding was to me, I would have said, “Eh…it’s just what I do. I don’t really have any feelings about it.” In fact, thinking about it right now, I don’t feel anything special about it. I do not wax poetic about the mother-baby dyad. I don’t talk about the special bond breastfeeding creates. Which is, apparently, because I’m in denial.

After he took a bottle from N Friday night, I spent a few hours sobbing in bed. I kept thinking that this.could.not.be how weaning was going to happen. The suddenness of it was awful. To offer to nurse him, only to have him turn his head was heartbreaking for me. While I understood, logically, that this wasn’t my fault, it was very hard for me to understand it emotionally. Of course this was my fault. It was me he wouldn’t nurse from. (It didn’t help that a lactation consultant I had emailed for advice suggested that the bottle he’d been occasionally getting at bedtime, or the sitter he goes to for 4 hours a week might have caused the strike. Both of these things were instituted because I was getting to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. Had I put my own needs ahead of my child’s, and was now paying the price? (Which is a whole ‘nother mind fuck – how much of my existence do I owe my child?))

O woke up to nurse around 3 a.m. Saturday morning, but that was a feeding he had taken the night before, so I didn’t get my hopes up that he would resume nursing as usual once the sun came up. Around nap time, he and I went into his room turned the lights off, got comfy in our nursing chair and I offered to nurse him. He latched on without hesitation. I felt such a sense of relief. It literally flooded through me – this relaxing wave of security.

Though the strike is over, I’m still nervous every time I offer to nurse. I’m scared he’s going to turn his head again, rejecting me.

(Plus, on Saturday night he bit me. He drew blood. It hurts every time he latches on. Worse than any pain I experienced in the early months. I’m afraid if he doesn’t turn his head, he’s going to bite me. I’m walking a delicate line right now.)

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Nursing strike

I’m afraid O and I are in the beginning of one. 😦

Yesterday he nursed, as usual, just before his nap around 10 a.m.. He didn’t nurse again for the rest of the day. I offered several times, and each time he would turn his head.

I was perplexed by it, and a little worried, but not overly so. I figured when he went to bed he’d definitely want to nurse, since he nurses to sleep. But he didn’t. He put his mouth near my nipple and started to cry. Big, mouth open, frowny lips crying. So I put him on my shoulder and patted his back for a little bit, and then offered again. Same response. It broke my heart, and I started to cry too.

Instead of nursing to sleep, I walked with him. With tears running down my cheeks, thinking to myself, “I am so sorry that I ever wished this away.”

I don’t know what precipitated this. I remember that he bit me a few times today as I offered, but I don’t remember having an extreme response. I’ve read that a dramatic response can scare babies, and cause a nursing strike. Maybe I wasn’t as calm as I thought I was. Maybe he’s teething, or doesn’t feel well.

I’ve been thinking about weaning lately. Not in any serious manner, just knowing that’s it’s potentially on the horizon. I’ve assumed that I wouldn’t have any overly sentimental feelings about it. That I might miss it, but that I would welcome the end. And maybe I will. But not like this.

I’m trying not to think about tomorrow. I’m hoping that by the time this post is up, he will have woken and nursed eagerly, as if nothing had happened.

I’m hoping…

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‘Cause the baby’s gotta eat

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week:

I breastfeed

I don’t remember ever consciously making a decision to breastfeed. I just always assumed, if I had kids, that I would. In fact, when I was about 24, I decided against breast reduction surgery because the surgeons told me that if I had one, I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed.

So, O was born. And the pressure at the hospital to nurse was insane. I was grateful that the hospital was supportive of my decision to nurse, but the schedules, and check boxes, and timelines…they made me feel like giving up. The nurses wanted to know how many drops of colostrum he’d eaten (I find this ridiculous, because my breasts are not see through – how the hell do I know how many drops he ate?), or they wanted to see him nursing 20 minutes per side every two hours. Getting him to latch was a nightmare – both he and I were reduced to tears on more than one occasion. Every nurse had a different suggestion, and most of them made me feel like if I couldn’t get him to latch, well there was always formula.

I was exhausted from 2 days of labor – I didn’t need to feel like breastfeeding was going to be an uphill battle. (In defense of the hospital’s approach – I’m sure they want to make sure they are sending babies home who have established good nursing practices. The problem is that it can take more than 2 days to establish good nursing practices, and once you’re out the hospital door, in the U.S., that’s the end of their responsibility. There is no follow-up at home. (Which is a whole ‘nother post about how new mothers, new parents, are not supported adequately in the U.S.) *I* was lucky, in that my midwives would be coming to my home to offer me breastfeeding support, and coaching.) Formula seemed like such an easy alternative – the pediatric nurse kept offering to bring some in – and I caved and N fed him bottle of formula while we were in the hospital. (After that, one of my midwives offered me a piece of priceless advice – she suggested that I simply lie about his feedings. “Tell them what they want to hear.” So that’s what I did.)

After a few days O and I managed to find ONE position the nurse in; the football hold. It was great that we were successful, but the football hold is probably the least portable hold there is. I stopped being anxious about being capable of feeding him, and started being anxious about being stuck in the house for the next year.

I remember taking a walk with N about a week after O was born, and unloading all the fears I had about breastfeeding. I worried about being “tied” to O. That I wouldn’t be able to manage, emotionally, the responsibility that comes with breastfeeding. That I would resent being needed. That I would feel trapped. That I would be isolated.

I did feel all of those things at various times early on. But as time passed, and I got more comfortable nursing, and O got better at it, and we mastered new positions, nursing became second nature to me. It’s just what I did.

There’s a statistic floating around that one of the greatest indicators of whether or not a woman will breastfeed, and for how long, is how supportive her partner is. For this I give N a standing ovation. He was completely supportive from day 1 and did everything to help me be successful. In the beginning he brought me a million glasses of water. And then he would sit and keep me company. If we were getting ready to go out, he would stop and say, “Do you want to nurse him before we leave?” I never felt like I was inconveniencing him, even if it meant we did things a lot slower than we used to.

It’s been almost 11 months. O shows no signs of slowing down. He still nurses at least once a night, and several times during the day. I have mixed feelings about weaning, as I’m sure many moms do. Sometimes I can’t wait for the day, and other times I think I’ll miss the cuddles. Whatever happens, I’m proud that we’ve come this far, and I’ll keep going as long as he wants.

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