Friday, August 2, 2013

Sharing the "Liquid Gold"

My story is part of the Blog carnival organized by World Milksharing Week, to celebrate World Milksharing Week 2013. Click here to read more stories about milksharing. If you’d like to participate too, please visit this page.

With Everett, I was worried terrified that I would "run out" of breast milk so I pumped and pumped and pumped a lot during the first few months of his life.  This was before I started going to La Leche League and before I realized that Everett would not take a bottle.  In the almost 20 months that Everett nursed he probably only took a bottle (partially not even fully) less than a handful of times.  (Note: I am sure that if he HAD to- like if God forbid I was in an accident or something- then Everett probably would have taken one eventually.)   

I spent countless hours hooked up to the pump, spent time meticulously measuring out my milk into the little breast milk storage bags. I would carefully squeeze out all of the excess air, and daintily scribble the date and amount of milk on the bag.  I was pretty OCD about the whole thing and then kid wouldn't even take a bottle!  Go figure!  Well there was no way I was going to just throw away all of that milk! 
A photo of a milk "stash" (found here.)
So what do I do now?  My baby won't drink the milk that I have pumped and I have a freezer full of the stuff.  I started researching my options.  I had read somewhere that Sir Elton John had breast milk flown in for his son so I figured there had to be a way for someone to use my milk.   I looked into breast milk donor banks but the guidelines were sort of stringent and to be honest it looked like a lot of work.  So I kept digging to see what else I could find.  That is when I came across Human Milk 4 Human Babies (HM4HB) on facebook
"The mission of Human Milk 4 Human Babies Global Network is to promote the nourishment of babies and children around the world with human milk. We are dedicated to fostering community between local families who have chosen to share breast milk."
What a novel idea! A message board dedicated for women who want to breastfeed their babies but are not able to provide enough or any of their own breast milk! I was so excited that I had found this website and that there were other people out there who, like me, wanted to breastfeed their baby by whatever (safe) means possible. 

I know, I know this all sounds a bit weird to the outside world but it truly is a blessing to a baby in need.  As a new mom it can be frustrating enough to try to breastfeed but when you run into problems it can be devastating.  Some moms are more than happy and even excited to accept breast milk from another woman.  Anastasia shared with me "I got some milk from some wonderful mamas, I loved being able to supplement with breast milk and use less formula to supplement what I produced!"  On the other hand, some women are not interested and are fine with supplementing or fully switching to formula.  Joelle says "I wanted to donate my some of my milk to my sister-in- law whose son is a month younger than my daughter. She has PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and tried so hard to breastfeed but couldn't produce enough however, she wasn't receptive to the idea."  

There is also a "human element" involved in donating/receiving breast milk.  Most women who are donating are very up front about the "condition" of their milk (i.e. what medication she may be on, if she consumes alcohol, etc.) It is very important to ask questions regarding the mothers' lifestyle, especially if your child has an allergy to a certain type of food.  This is why "informed choice" is so important with milk sharing.  
"Informed choice is a choice made by competent individuals, free from coercion, that takes into account sufficient information to make a decision. This information should include the benefits and risks of a course of action, as well as taking into account what alternatives are available, and an individual’s intuitive feelings on the subject." (HM4HB Frequently Asked Questions)
Another issue that some women run into is actually finding the time to meet.  Since HM4HB operates as a message board, users communicate with each other individually and set up times to get together. This can cause issues if you have someone flake out on you.  Gina shared this story with me about her milk donation experience: 
"I had over 300 ounces of breast milk to donate after Joshua was diagnosed with his food allergies since we could no longer use the breast milk at all.  I offered my milk on the HM4HB message board and a woman said she desperately needed it. We set to meet up and she never showed up. I moved to the next woman who was interested in the milk and the same thing happened. I had never been strung along so much in my life and I was done. I ended up painfully throwing away all of those bags of milk because we desperately needed the room in our freezer."
For every negative experience, I am sure that there are dozens of positive experiences! Jessica says, "I was happy to donate to a mama in need I felt very good about sharing my milk in order to help someone else even, if it wasn't much." It is such a rewarding feeling to know that my body produces milk to not only feed my own child but to feed others who are in need of it as well.  I have donated to three different babies so far and am starting to pump daily in order to donate to a friend of mine who is fostering a four month old little girl!  I think it's pretty cool to be able to say I've nursed my own two babies and have also provided milk for four (and hopefully more)! 

I'd like to conclude this post with a story about two women who started out as acquaintances but through milk sharing  have become great friends.  I asked both of these women for their experiences with milk sharing and they provided me with their own individual accounts. To my knowledge, neither of them shared their story with the other but when I was reading them they seemed fit together seamlessly.  Enjoy!
Rissa: "I breastfed all four of my babies and knew that I would breastfeed our fifth as well. It was a very easy decision. Nathan was born and little did we know, God had something different planned for us, other women would feed him, not me. Nathan was born with a very rare genetic syndrome and was unable to breastfeed, despite my hard work and dedication. He only had my milk for the first five weeks, but I had to pump it and give it to him through a bottle specifically for babies with facial malformations. As the appointments and surgeries piled up, the stress started affecting my milk supply and I had to come up with food for Nathan, quick! My first instinct was to run out and buy a can of organic formula. As much as it killed me to buy it, he needed to eat. I cried."
Erin: "To be honest I never really thought of becoming a milk donor, the opportunity just fell into my lap.  My friend Rissa, whom I have know casually for about four years through our local MOMS Club International Chapter gave birth to a beautiful baby boy last July. As it turned out Nathan was born with a rare genetic condition called Hallermann-Streiff.  Rissa tried to breastfeed Nathan but his mouth and jaw were so small he was unable to latch on; she tried and tried to pump but was unable to produce enough to feed Nathan."
Nathan, 1 year old
Photo by Stephanie McFarland Photography
Rissa: "I text messaged a friend of mine, who is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and she mentioned milk sharing.  She said I had to have a few friends that breastfed and would willingly give me some milk. I discussed this with my husband. He was a little unsure about it but after doing some research, I couldn't find anything harmful about it. 
So after an hour of thinking about it, I posted a status to my Facebook page: “I am gonna need a little help to keep up with Nathan's feedings. I am wondering if there are any breastfeeding mommas out there willing to part with their "liquid gold" for Nathan? I appreciate any ounce I can get.” I had milk in my fridge/freezer by the end of the next day!" 
Erin: "One day she put a call out on Facebook for milk donations.  By this time my son was over a year old and I had not pumped since he was an infant. I did however have a few bags of frozen milk and knew a ton of other breastfeeding moms.  Rissa gladly accepted what I had, after talking with her during a meal drop off. I told her I would pump for her once or twice a day for as long as I could. I was not producing tons, but what I had was enough for a few meals for Nate a day. During this time many of my friends also donated to Rissa and Nathan. I ended up pumping for Nathan for about six months I believe. I was so sad once I was no longer able to pump anything of substance. I did however continue to connect Rissa with as many of my friends who could donate as possible." 
Rissa: "It was all uphill from there. I was able to pump some milk for Nathan until he was about six months of age, but our milk mommas gave him most of his nutrition.  Some of our friends and family were a little skeptical of our plan to feed Nathan with other women’s milk but it is a normal thing around our house now. When I mention a "milk smuggle," it’s as normal as running to the grocery store. I have tried to keep track of all of our milk mommas but sometimes milk just shows up in our freezer and I never know who to credit it to. We have about 40 milk mommas, give or take a few, at this moment. We have over 60+ milk smuggles under our belt and we have collected milk in four different states. We very rarely turn down milk. Although breast milk is our most treasured item at home (we even bought a generator for bad weather), the ultimate treasure is the new relationships I have with Nathans milk momma's. I have met some really nice women and a few of them are now great friends of mine."
Erin: "It is such a rewarding experience to donate breast milk; watching Nathan thrive and grow has been joyous. Through this experience I have gained a best friend as Rissa and I have become incredibly close over this last year. I honestly feel Rissa and her family have become a part of my family."
Rissa: "Nathan is thriving, he is gaining weight, he is happy, he is perfect. I would not have been able to do this without the help of all of the donors that help me feed him. I would not have been able to do it without the support of my husband. Milk sharing is one of the best decisions I made for Nathan."
Nathan, 1 year old
Photo by Stephanie McFarland Photography
Erin: "I am excited to say I am 18 weeks pregnant with my third child and cannot wait to donate milk to Nathan or any other child in need after the baby is born. Breastfeeding had been one of the greatest joys of my motherhood experience; milk donation only enhanced that experience. Thanks to Rissa’s courage for asking for milk donations my life has been enriched and I have gained lasting friendships."

I am so touched by their story. I hope that mothers out there who, like Rissa, want to provide breast milk for their child/ren but for whatever reason are unable to will reach out to the community and start researching their options.  

I want to say THANK YOU to Anastasia, Joelle, Gina, Jessica, Rissa, and Erin for sharing their comments and stories with me.  I am so thankful to have a real life perspective to add to this post.  I know that through your courageousness we are making strides in normalizing breastfeeding and milk sharing.  :) 

Have you ever heard of milk sharing?  What do you think?  Is this a weird thing to you or totally normal?  Would you ever consider sharing your milk or using another woman's breast milk to feed your baby?  I'd love to hear your thoughts! 
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If you are interested in using a breast pump either for your child or for the purposes of donating you should now be able to acquire one through your insurance company for little to no cost.  Check out this link for more information! 


  1. This is awesome! I've got a pregnant friend, Bek, who is afraid she might not be able to breastfeed, due to thyroid and other health issues. I'll have to mention this to her!

  2. Great post! Totally normal for me. In Peru, moms in my family would feed one another's kids straight from their breast which I think would be considered weird here...I guess what's "weird" all just depends on what you're used to. But if you think of it as nutritional food, them feeding a child whenever they're hungry (albeit from your own non-mom breast) isn't that odd!

    1. That is really interesting. I am hoping that one day we will get back to milk sharing (from the breast or pumped) is normal!