Get Adobe Flash player

Breastfeeding

Connection and Milksharing: A Lesson Learned

The idea of whether or not to nurse never really occurred to me, since I had been given plenty of opportunities to see babies fed in this natural way. As far as I was concerned, breastfeeding was the norm and there was no reason to consider another option. It also never occurred to me that it might actually be a difficult thing to do. A few weeks before my daughter’s birth, I realized that if I tried, I could hand express a bit of colostrum. Fantastic! We were all set! 

After my daughter’s birth, she began nursing easily and there was never a single issue on her end of the deal. For me, however, there was. Due to a very strong suck, poor positioning, or some combination, I ended up in severe pain in the first days of my daughter’s life, and it lasted well beyond the first weeks. I dreaded nursing her because every feeding meant my wounds were reopened. One side was worse than the other, but both hurt awfully. I searched far and wide for a lactation consultant to help me figure out what we had been doing wrong and how to fix it, but our island does not have one. The nearest, it seemed, was Japan, which really is not near at all. I managed to push through thanks to some fabulous online support, but I was frustrated by the lack of local resources for women with breastfeeding issues. Even as late as my six week postpartum appointment, my nipples were so damaged that my OB encouraged me to begin nursing from one side only. She compared my wounds to a C-section scar, and asked me to return for a follow-up a month later so that she could make sure they were healing properly.
Going Strong at 18 Months
My daughter grew, and our nursing relationship continued. Eventually I did heal properly, and the pain of those first few months has become a distant memory. That experience, however, made me keenly aware of just how difficult breastfeeding can be in some cases. It also made me passionate about helping other nursing mothers – especially here on Guam where informed breastfeeding support is hard to come by. So, when a friend approached me about Eats on Feets, I was immediately interested in helping. Because of my daughter’s love of frequent nursing, I had enough milk for her and then some. I posted my offer of donor milk on my local chapter page, but the word about EOF was slow to get out in this part of the world and some time passed before anyone came forward with a need. 
When my daughter was just under a year old, a mom who needed milk for her son posted on our local Eats on Feets page and I connected with her online. We made arrangements for our families to get together for dinner. I learned that she had needed a medical procedure immediately following her son’s birth that made it impossible for her to nurse right away. She struggled with supply from the start, but fortunately had a family friend with milk to share and this milk had been feeding her son since his birth. Her friend’s supply had begun to dwindle, however, and the mom was finding that she sometimes needed to supplement with formula. I was not pumping yet, but we all felt comfortable and I offered to start expressing and storing my milk for this mama’s sweet boy. She had found another donor through EOF, so I would be their third. The father, an MD, explained that, “It’s awesome! I mean, he gets three different sets of antibodies!”
Because I stay home with my daughter, I had never needed to pump my milk. I considered buying a pump, but I started out hand expressing and this worked so well that I decided pumping was unnecessary. I was able to express and freeze as anywhere from three or four to twelve ounces each evening, depending on how well hydrated I was and how much Annabelle had nursed that day. I kept in touch with my recipient family over the phone and on facebook, and when I had a good amount stocked up, they would come and pick it up. 

Now, here’s the part where I need to be really honest. I was more than happy to share my abundance of milk for the benefit of any baby, and I think doing so is the most natural thing this side of a mama nursing her own baby at the breast. I would donate again in a heartbeat, but I was relieved when my recipient family moved off island, bringing the donor relationship to a natural end. My problem was that I failed to build a connection with the family I was donating to. This would be fine for a one time donation of milk I had stored away for no one in particular, but I was sitting down for fifteen or twenty minutes each and every day to express milk for a baby I had never even held. Our meetings to exchange milk were quick and easy, with only one parent getting out of the car.

Yesterday, Amy at Anktangle re posted her Milksharing How-To, and one of the suggestions she gave for mothers thinking about sharing their milk was to, regularly check in with yourself on an emotional level, so you’re aware of how you’re feeling about donating your milk.” I didn’t do this, and I think it really would have helped. I didn’t understand at first why I was feeling so disappointed. After all, I was doing something that I really believed in: Helping a baby get species specific nutrition, and sticking it to those sleazy formula companies, all at the same time. Why didn’t I feel awesome? Eventually it occurred to me that the missing piece was connection. 

My offer of donor milk still stands, and I’ll gladly start expressing again if someone comes forth with an ongoing need, but next time I’ll make a point of checking in with myself more often. I’ll make a point of building a friendship with my recipient family so that I can more freely give from the heart, of both my time and my milk, because that connection is important to me. 

Have you ever donated your own milk, or received donor milk? What suggestions would you have for families considering the same?


World Milksharing Week

September 24th-30th is World Milksharing Week, celebrated to help raise awareness of donor milk as a viable option for babies who need something in addition to or in place of their own mother’s milk. To start off the celebration here, I’m sharing an updated version of an article I wrote at this time last year. Be sure to check tomorrow to read my personal milk sharing story.

____

In recent history, the cultural norm for infant feeding has been pretty simple: some women nurse or express breast milk for their babies, while others feed their babies formula from a bottle. Until recently, I had never met, in person, a mom who did anything else. It seems that when there are breastfeeding problems, or a mother cannot or does not wish to nurse, the natural solution is infant formula. I’m sure that formula companies are quite pleased that their products are the immediate go-to for the vast majority of moms when breastfeeding is difficult, or is not an option for one reason or another, but this is an unfortunate scenario for infants.

The following excerpt is taken from the World Health Organizations’s Global Strategy for Infant Feeding

“The vast majority of mothers can and should breastfeed, just as the vast majority of infants can and should be breastfed. Only under exceptional circumstances can a mother’s milk be considered unsuitable for her infant. For those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative – expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human-milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute fed with a cup, which is a safer method than a feeding bottle and teat – depends on individual circumstances…Infants who are not breastfed, for whatever reason, should receive special attention from the health and social welfare system since they constitute a risk group.”

In other words, most every mother can breastfeed and doing so provides the greatest benefit to her offspring. In the rare circumstances when she cannot, the best alternatives, in order are:
  • Expressed milk from the mother
  • Milk from another healthy mother, at the breast, or expressed and fed using another method such as an SNS, cup, or bottle
  • Infant formula
In terms of what is healthiest for our children, infant formula should be the LAST resort, and as stated above, actually puts children who consume it at risk. It’s no surprise, however, that women tend to go straight for it when breastfeeding is not possible, or is not quite enough. The idea of using donor milk is almost unheard of, and is sometimes even treated as something completely wacky and counter-culture. Cross nursing (a woman nursing a child other than her own) is even worse – I mean who does that, right!? It’s a sad state of affairs when society fails to empower women to make the best possible choices for their children’s health. Once again, though, I’m sure Nestle and other formula companies are quite content with the way things are!
Fortunately, there are milk banks in a growing number of locations, but these generally serve NICU babies first and if they do have milk available for healthy babies, a prescription is required and at roughly three dollars an ounce or more, it can be cost-prohibitive. This milk is also pasteurized, which is good, of course, in that it helps to destroy any potential pathogens, but it also has a negative effect on some of the beneficial substances in human milk. So, while it is certainly superior to infant formula, human milk from a milk bank is not always easy to obtain and loses some of its nutritional and immunological value in the pasteurization process.
When one looks at the evidence, it becomes clear that cross-nursing, or donor milk directly from a healthy mother is actually quite a sensible choice, and the apparent taboo surrounding it is an unfortunate hurdle for mothers who have trouble breastfeeding. Women who realize this are speaking up, however. Milk Share, formed in 2004, is an informational resource and connection point for families in need of human milk and others who are willing and able to provide it – free of charge. Eats on Feets, a global milk sharing network launched last year, is another connection point whereby families in need can find mothers willing to donate milk. They have new chapters springing up all the time – we even have one here on Guam! This year saw the birth of yet another such network in Human Milk 4 Human Babies. Whether it is talked about or not – there are mothers virtually everywhere in the world who are more than willing to provide milk for babies other than their own – out of the kindness of their hearts.

I’m also celebrating by linking this post up with the lovely Anktangle and many other bloggers who will be sharing their World Milksharing Week posts. Do stop in and visit them!

What’s New: World Breastfeeding Week Edition

As Annabelle is seeming more and more like a full-fledged child and very much not like a baby these days, I have been reflecting a great deal on our parenting practices. Some things have served us well, and others worked before but have required some re-thinking as Annabelle gets older, and still others have had to be changed completely. When it comes to breastfeeding, I am thrilled that we have managed to nurse for the past sixteen and a half months, and I plan to continue until Annabelle is ready to give the practice up. Still, there are a few things I would do differently if I had the chance, so I wanted to take a look at where we are now.

We had a bit of a rocky start to nursing, but all has been going well since just a few months in. We nursed exclusively until seven months, and then began the slow and gradual weaning process with the introduction of solid foods. I have seen very little noticeable decrease in nursing since we left the newborn period, except when we’re out. We do a lot less nursing in public now that Annabelle is more mobile and more engaged with everyone and everything around her. She may ask for milk, but nursing sessions on the go usually last little more than a minute or two before she decides there are far more interesting things to do. Her size and squirm factor definitely play a role as well. I can no longer nurse comfortably while standing, unless I’m using a structured carrier, so I find myself offering a snack or a drink of water instead when there’s no desirable place to sit down.

We’re dealing with two relatively small issues now, but they’re things that will definitely affect my decisions the next time around. First is the nursing to sleep deal. For the most part, I don’t mind it. It’s valuable cuddle time, but there are nights when Annabelle will nurse to sleep and want to stay latched for an hour or more after the point when she stops really getting anything. When this happens, I often fall asleep, too, and end up having to get back up to prepare myself for bed, only to find that I’m suddenly wide awake at 2am. So as I’ve mentioned, I’m attempting to nurse first and then put Annabelle to sleep instead of putting her to sleep by nursing. It went alright the first time, but then I got sick and took a break because I was dying to sleep myself by her bedtime. Now that I’m feeling better, it has been a struggle to go back to the new old routine.

If we’re fortunate enough to have another child, I’d like to avoid nursing to sleep from fairly early on if I can help it. This would also be nice because it would make having Andrew put our babies to sleep much easier, which would in turn make my life much easier by allowing me to take more breaks when needed. That would have been hard to do with Annabelle anyway, as I was solo parenting for the first eight months, but now that I’ve put it off well into toddlerhood, I really have my work cut out for me.

The only other thing I will (intentionally) do differently the next time is try to encourage good “nursing habits” from the start. The twiddling of the ‘other side’ has gotten pretty intense and doesn’t feel very good, so I’ve been trying to let Annabelle know that and give her something else to do, but that is proving to be a challenge. I know we’ll be able to do it, but I could have avoided the entire scenario and a good bit of discomfort along the way if I had never allowed myself to be pinched to begin with.

Other than those two small things, I still love that I’m able to provide Annabelle with milk, and she seems quite happy with its continued availability as well. A few fun nursing habits that have been making it all worthwhile this week:

  • When Annabelle wants to switch sides in bed, she climbs on me and gives me a big squeeze until I turn over. 
  • When she’s really hungry, she squeals and makes super excited noises at the site of me getting ready.
  • She absolutely loves milk in general, whether real or almond. I put a dash of almond milk in her oatmeal to cool it down sometimes and she throws her hands up in excitement before happily looking at me and signing “milk!”
  • I get loads of grins, hugs, and hand claps. There is even the occasional unlatch to smile and sign at me, with milk in both corners of the mouth.
  • While nursing actively, Annabelle still signs milk into the air every so often, as though to remind everyone around know what she’s doing.
What will you, or did you do differently with a second nursling? What sweet nursing habits do your children have?

World Breastfeeding Week: A Poem of Thanks

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I thought I would write a thank you to the many people who have supported me in my right to choose natural duration breastfeeding, even when it means nursing in public. Stories of negative reactions to women breastfeeding in public places get a lot of attention, and for good reason, but there are many others who are left alone, or even openly encouraged. I wanted to highlight those today.

I’m not a poet, at all, but I thought I would have some fun anyway. Try to read past the virtually nonexistent meter and the all over the place rhyme scheme and tune in later this week for more World Breastfeeding Week related content. I’ll even write some in formats I have a reasonable command of ;)

***

Thank you for your smiles.
Thank you for your knowing nods.
Thank you for peeking in a way
that made me feel more comfortable than on display.

Breastfeeding in public is seldom discussed – rarely seen,
except where we nursing mothers convene.
So together we do our best,
to raise awareness and inform the rest.

Breastfeeding is not obscene,
and there’s no magic age by which children should wean.
It offers natural immunity, the best nutrition, and many other benefits
for infants, toddlers, and yes – sometimes even children of six!

I hear tales of women harassed,
others who get not a single smile from those who walk past.
As for me, I’ve never seen it.
You’ve kept quiet, or you’ve been in agreement.

I feel pride in my community 
and gratitude for all around me.

Thanks to you, I’ve always felt safe and supported,
because of your warmth and the smiles you’ve sported.

***
celebrate-wbw-npn-450

I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!

You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.

(Visit NPN for the code to place on your blog.)

Sunday Surf: Partying it Up in the Blogosphere

What an exciting week it has been in mama blog land! Tuesday was the April Carnival of Natural Parenting and the topic was compassionate advocacy. There were so many amazing posts! I absolutely loved Lucy of Dreaming Aloud’s thoughts on natural birth advocacy. I told her that it gave me chills, and I wasn’t just being complimentary. Such poetry, such power, such beauty – do yourself a favor and go read it. Shannon of the ArtsyMama’s submission was a breast milk sharing story, A Tale of Four Milky Mamas, that gave me all sorts of warm, tingly, happy feelings. It is truly beautiful. There were many other thoughtful, inspiring pieces written for this carnival. You can find the whole list of links at the bottom of Lucy’s, Shannon’s, or my post
Photo Credit, Sarah-ji on Flickr.
Used by Creative Commons License
There was also a carnival of breastfeeding on the topic of extended breastfeeding, and I’m disappointed to have forgotten about it entirely, but I really enjoyed Lauren’s submission on Hobo Mama. Speaking of “extended” breastfeeding (I prefer to refer to it as natural duration, or full-term breastfeeding myself), have you seen the Mama Is comic by Heather Cushman-Dowdee? She posted one called Get Comfortable this week and I actually did laugh out loud, ’cause I can relate!
This week is also the Natural Parenting Blog Party, hosted by The Peaceful Housewife. You can visit her site to see the link up and discover a few new blogs. Perhaps the most precious of the gems I discovered this week was Just a Bald Man, a blog written by an insightful and well-spoken attached, unschooling dad. I definitely recommend visiting his site.
This week on the Natural Parents Network, Charise shared Three Easy Tips for Natural Living, all of which I wholeheartedly agree with. Did you know that NPN is always looking for guest posts, and even regular volunteers? You can read more info on this post
Also of note this week:


As always, I would love for you to share links to your own inspiring reads from the week, whether you wrote them or dug them up somewhere else on the web. You can also click over to Authentic Parenting for a list of others participating in the Sunday Surf.


Freedom of Cloth Carnival

Multicultural Kid Blogs
Shop Montessori Services

Categories

Archives

I participate in

Montessori Monday
BabyLinkUp500px