Milk sharing in the internet age

Experts agree that breastfeeding is best for infants, but what if you can’t? Whether you’ve adopted, have to be on medications incompatible with breastfeeding, or have supply issues, a mama down the street (or across the country) with an abundance of milk may be able to help. Milk sharing is becoming more popular, via donor banks, social media, and even wet nursing.

Sharing is caring

Milk sharing is not a new thing. As long as mothers have been having babies, mothers have been sharing milk. More than 70 species of mammals wet nurse or cross nurse other mothers’ offspring. Besides the obvious benefits of offering babies the best nutrition, mother’s milk contains antibodies, hormones, and special sugars that boost the immune system. Infants who consume milk from more than one mother may even enjoy better immunity. Unfortunately, unpasteurized donor milk may also carry diseases, drugs, and other contamination. In 2010, the FDA released a statement officially recommending “against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet.” Many parents choose to receive milk from trusted friends or relatives, while others prefer to work with milk banks because they test donors and pastuerize donor milk before it goes to an infant.

Receiving and donating

Michelle Bucur, midwife, owner of Mother Oriented Midwifery in Ypsilanti and mom of four, adopted her oldest child, and received donor milk for him. “I learned about induced lactation and was able to lactate for my son,” she said. “With my next child, since she was biological, I was able to produce enough milk not just for her, but to pump and donate — I’ve been donating since.” She estimates she’s fed or helped feed more than 15 babies, including the one she carried as a surrogate. Bucur gave birth to Valentina in July, and has exclusively pumped — and shipped out of state — enough milk so she can have breastmilk exclusively for nine months.

Any mom that’s done it knows it’s not an easy job to make and pump milk. “While I’ve been mostly lucky to find caretakers who have appreciated my milk… producing milk does indeed cost not just time but money to the person donating it. Your caloric intake is increased, you need many hours of the day to pump, all equipment needs to be cleaned and sterilized after each session. Bags and bottles cost. And then add to that the cost of having to store it.”

Banking milk

Jennifer Tansel, lactation consultant with Wood County Hospital, is a proponent of donating milk through milk banks. Tansel said Wood County is, “one of seven hospitals that give free lab draws for the milk bank. When a mom has 200 ounces of milk she wants to donate, there is a telephone screening, and if she passes then the bank sends a lab kit and mom’s blood is drawn. If the mom passes that test, then the milk bank sends a cooler for shipping the frozen milk. The milk is again tested and pasteurized and distributed to NICUs.” Premature infants, especially, benefit from donor milk, and Tansel notes, “breastmilk can also be used [to help] burn patients because it has anti-viral properties and and white blood cells in it that help skin grafts take better.”

Connecting online

Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies are two groups with similar missions of encouraging community milk sharing, primarily through the Internet. Katie Bollinger, mom of two, helped feed an adopted baby, whose mom she connected with online. She said, “the reason I started donating is once [my oldest] started solid foods he wasn’t nursing as much, but I was still producing a ton of milk. Breastfeeding became so important to me… I saw moms with adopted babies or that were having trouble breastfeeding, it made me want to help.”

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