In Honor of World Milk-sharing Week 2011

When I was pregnant with Eli I thought that breastfeeding would be easy. I read a lot of breastfeeding guides and they all stressed how much simpler it is compared to the inconvenience and expense of using formula. Just lift your shirt, right?

While I am an ardent proponent of breastfeeding, in my experience it was anything but easy to get started. In addition to the nipple pain that is so common during the first few weeks, aggravated by Eli’s pitt bull latch, I never experienced my milk “coming in”. I produced milk, but only in small quantities. Hearing your child cry in hunger and not being able to meet their need produces an anxiety unlike any I had experienced before. It wasn’t long before I was giving formula to the child I had sworn would be breastfed only. In hindsight, I so wish we hadn’t as he quickly developed a cow’s milk allergy that to date hasn’t yet been outgrown. We tried the so-called hypoallergenic formula, but he still developed a body rash and it brought on a painful relfux condition that lasted for months. At this point we were just speculating about the problem being an allergy to cow’s milk. I didn’t know what to do. I felt horrible giving my baby formula that made him sick, but when I didn’t he was so hungry and miserable, even with me pumping every 2 hours around the clock, going in for acupuncture and taking many herbal supplements to increase my production. We didn’t want to use soy and at $3 an ounce couldn’t afford to use the local milk bank.

Thankfully, my friend Blanca gave birth just 6 weeks after Eli was born. When her milk came in she had much more than her son could drink and rather than pump and dump she passed that milk on to us. It was a God-send. We could easily compare how Eli was when supplemented with breastmilk to his reaction the days he received formula.I knew about Blanca’s lifestyle and knew she’d had all of the various tests that I had had during pregnancy. I had absolutely no reservations about giving her milk to my son.  As her supply adjusted to meet the needs of her child she no longer had extra to pass on, but by then we had figured out that we could supplement with a homemade goat’s milk formula and my own supply was slowly (oh so slowly!) increasing.

Once Eli started eating solid foods at 6 months the pressure to produce, produce, produce was off and I was able to finally just enjoy the nursing experience. I do wish I produced a bit more so that I could turn around and share with other families that are in need as we were. Now that I know about such informal milk-sharing groups as Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies perhaps if we have another child I will be in a position to be a donor. Or if I have trouble once again I now know of these sources of help.

In some Middle Eastern cultures if a woman nurses another mother’s baby the two are considered to be related as though they were blood relatives. Her other children are henceforth that child’s siblings. I told Blanca about this and she seemed pleased. I know there will always be a very special place in my heart for this woman who quite literally gave of herself to help us out when we were at wit’s end.

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10 Comments

  1. Davina said,

    May 25, 2012 at 4:47 am

    What a great post!

  2. jrsgifts said,

    May 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    I found this a lovely blog! My son is lactose intolerant, and wasn’t breastfed…. but not through my choice, it was his! My nursing bra clips were like a magic button that made Roarke scream the second he heard them! I tried various times/positions/bras/tops/places and it didn’t matter to him!
    I showed my husband when Roarke was a day or two old and he couldn’t believe it!
    Roarke had already had most of a feed so I thought the pressure would be off us both and we might get somewhere… but no. I unclipped…. it was ok. I lowered the cup… screaming ensued. I fastened the cup… the screaming stopped. I unclipped and lowered… he started again… I fastened… he stopped!
    My mum wants told me that my brother was pretty much force-fed milk as a baby, even as a newborn – he hated it, and still does to this day, 28 years later!

    • May 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm

      It’s amazing how the baby himself could pinpoint the source of the discomfort at such a very young age! For situations like yours, being in this time and place where formula is readily accessible truly is a blessing.

      • jrsgifts said,

        May 27, 2012 at 1:37 pm

        It was a huge blessing.
        At a baby group I mentioned it and someone had a theory that because they had to give him oxygen before they gave him to me, and didn’t encourage me to put him to the breast immediately (or at all and I was in overnight) before handing me a bottle when I said combine feeding (as in, express so hubby can give bottles too) that that’s why he wouldn’t even entertain the idea!

  3. June 17, 2012 at 12:17 am

    Good on you for persisiting with your own milk. What a lovely friend as well, to give you her milk when it was in abundance!

  4. Linne said,

    November 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Years ago I was nursing my first son when a friend living in the same house had a baby with a severely cleft palate. The doctors were going to operate, but could not until the baby was older. He took 2 to 3 hours to feed. The mum didn’t want to bottle-feed, but really needed some rest, so I offered to nurse him as well. I had lots of milk and it was easy; sometimes I fed the babies one after the other, sometimes at the same time. This went on for some time, then she moved away and we lost touch. Many cultures use, or have used, wet nurses; it is such a good thing to be able to do.

    I wish we had had milk banks in those days; I would have loved to contribute! You are so lucky to have a friend who was able to help you, too. Thanks for sharing your story; sometimes I have thought I was the only one . . .

    • November 12, 2012 at 2:50 pm

      Even though you have lost touch with that mother I can only imagine that you hold a very special place in her heart! What a blessing that even with an extreme sort of challenge like that she could still have her child fed the way she wanted him to be. It’s such a beautiful gift!

      • Linne said,

        November 20, 2012 at 9:29 pm

        I agree, Karen. I’ve always been into traditions (when they make sense, of course! some of them should be let go or forgotten…). In the same way that I believe in doulas, midwives, milk-sharing when needed and all that, I also believe in doulas for the dying (not a common term, but that’s how I think of it); it’s the last thing we can do for another; to be a caring companion right to the last threshold. I also believe in caring for the body afterward, rather than leaving it for those who are unconnected to the person and who rarely have a sense of reverence and of the sacred that can infuse such acts.I have done this for four of the six people at whose deaths I was present, and it can be a very healing act and a natural part of grieving and letting go. Not a popular topic in today’s world, but not long ago it was the usual thing to do.

        I know the popular view is that we should be frightened of nature, especially as it manifests in our lives, but I can’t see the sense in that. I have learned that we are spirit, living in bodies, and I feel quite strongly that we need to acknowledge that and find or make ways to incorporate that understanding in our lives and relationships. But that’s my thinking; I know there are others who share it, but am not offended by those who don’t. Humanity will not progress (in my opinion again) until we accept each other as we are, but hold in our hearts a vision of how we might be and then relate to that vision. So that’s how I end up being called to serve others from time to time in ways that are no longer usual.

        It isn’t always easy to support someone else in the midst of a life event, but I think we learn and grow when we step up and do our best whenever we are called to do so.

        Sorry if that’s a bit long and perhaps a bit scattered, too; sometimes I’m thinking out loud when I write. To me, these are related issues. Others, or you, may not agree. Thanks for ‘listening’ anyway. ~ Linne


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