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.
In Honor of World Milk-sharing Week 2011