Milk sharing, donor milk, wet nursing – why is it weird??
Let me start by saying, everyone is absolutely entitled to their own opinions and reasonings as to why they find the concept of wet nursing or donor breastmilk weird or not weird. But I would also like to shed some light on why it absolutely isn’t weird and why you should consider it for yourself and your baby.
I also don’t want this to become a debate about breastfeeding or formula feeding. I for one used ALL sorts of milk for my babies, they were breastfed by me, they have been wet nursed, formula fed, bottle-fed, supply line fed and we received donor milk. It was OUR choice, so everyone else could mind their own business.
I don’t believe in the saying “Fed is best” I believe in “Informed is best” and if you have made an informed decision to feed your baby breast milk, BRILLIANT! If you have made an informed choice to formula feed you baby? AMAZING! If you chose to mix is all up? CELEBRATE GURL! Just don’t feed your baby a burger PLEASE!
So back to the topic at hand. Milk Sharing. What is it? Milk Sharing is when you have made a choice to either allow someone else to breastfeed your baby, which is known as Wet nursing or you receive or give Donor breastmilk.
This choice may come for various reasons. Having to go back to work earlier than planned! Your nipples are cracked and bleeding? You have supply issues? You just need a damn break from being a human smorgasbord!
Why do people think it is weird? I’ve heard comments like “but it’s someones else’s boob milk”…………….what do you think that milk that you pour into your coffee is? That my friend is a random cow’s boob milk………..yep cows breastmilk. Cheese? Cow Titty Milk! Chocolate? Cow Milk! Butter? Cow Breast Milk! Same same but different right? Human milk, is made for humans. Cow milk, well that beautiful stuff is made for calfs, so why on earth is it so weird?
Our Journey with donated breastmilk started with my first baby Mary. We struggled through the whole 11 months. No skin on skin straight after birth (NICU) She didn’t latch for the first week AT ALL – she just couldn’t for some reason – it wasn’t until I used a nipple shield that she latched. Late diagnosed lip and tongue restrictions. So my supply took a dive and never really recovered. My mum suggested I get some breastmilk from a family friend who lived on a dairy farm (Funny right?? Milk – Dairy farm) It was a no brainer for me. Just took my husband a bit of convincing…………….I gave him the human breast milk / cow breast milk analogy and he was sold.
King Edwards Memorial Hospital have a milk bank. They receive donated colostrum for all the premature babies in NICU. The milk is donated and screened, I believe it is also scalded to kill any bacteria etc, but this also can kill a lot of the good nutrients and immunities.
There is also online Milk Donation forums.
Human Milk for Human Babies (HM4HB) below is the link for https://www.facebook.com/hm4hbwestaust/
Eats on Feets (Link below for WA)
Receiving Donated Milk from these groups is a little different to receiving milk from a hospital. My belief (and this is totally my opinion) is that a mother who is breastfeeding her baby and also taking the time to pump EXTRA MILK for another baby in need is an ANGEL in disguise and would likely not have any Illnesses, Drugs or Alcohol in their system you would need to be concerned about. But I also would suggest you do your own personal “Question Screening”
My top 5 questions I asked when using Donated milk were;
- Can you provide a blood screening test
- Do you consume Alcohol
- Are you a smoker
- Do you take any drugs
- Are you on any medication
Some more questions which may be suitable for you to ask are;
- Do you drink coffee (How many a day?)
- Are you dairy free / soy free (to suit intolerances)
9/10 these Mum who are willing to spare Liquid gold will be happy to provide all information. For example, I had a mother who had the occasional “Spliff” and she was completely open and disclosed this information to me. Another mother who I reached out to for milk was on Anxiety and Depression medication – again, full disclosure. So in those circumstances, for my baby I chose not to accept the gift of milk. But some mums may be comfortable with this and that is their business.
Another option is to just ASK, if you know someone who is breastfeeding and you know they have abundance of milk and you may be struggling? ASK THEM. A lot of people are so unaware of this concept it never even crossed their mind to offer! And if you know the person you are receiving milk from you may be a little bit more at ease about it.
It takes a village right? This is a sentence which is widely used when talking about being a Mum, and you are damn right it takes a village, but in this day and age our Villages are all but lost. We don’t generally live with a big family anymore, don’t have our mothers next door, or our sisters down the road, aunties, cousins etc – we live independently.
Back in the day and still in a few villages – wet nursing is the complete norm, if Mum is busy or just is too exhausted, the sister or aunty will feed the hungry baby.
My sister wet nursed my daughter, and I will be forever grateful for this gift. I struggled with supply issues with my first baby and was overwhelmed by it and stressed – the offer from my sister was truly selfless. The first time she fed my darling Mary, I did have a twinge of jealousy because I wasn’t able to satisfy her hunger but my sister was, that feeling was quickly replaced with pride. Pride watching my sister form an unimaginably strong bond with my baby girl, pride in knowing that I was nourishing my daughter with more nutrients and immunity through another source, pride because I was doing the BEST for my daughter with the cards I was dealt.
Not the magazine, but the World Health Organisation” recommends breastfeeding up until 2 years of age
The order of preferences for alternative milk if a mother can’t breastfeed exclusively is; most preferred expressed breastmilk from the infant’s own mother , donated breastmilk from a healthy wet-nurse or human milk bank, formula.
I found this quite interesting during my first breastfeeding journey, I had no idea this was the recommendations, no one I knew ever mentioned this being done. So it was very new and weird concept to me. I was nearly embarrassed to be sourcing alternative human breastmilk other than what I thought society deemed normal which either your own breastmilk or formula.
I am grateful to have gone down a more challenging breastfeeding path with my first, as it opened my eyes up to a whole new world of how to sustain your baby. It has also given me the courage to inform others who may be blessed with abundance of milk to suggest milk sharing, or those who are struggling to keep up with their little ones demand to accept donor milk.
The photo below is very close to my heart and fills me with pride. This is my 3 week old daughter, breastfeeding with a nipple shield, supply line and that bottle is filled with beautiful gifted donor milk. Our journey wasn’t easy and I wanted to give up weekly, sometimes daily – but my heart swells with pride that we made it to 11 months………..AND then I fell pregnant with number 2 and this breastfeeding journey is oh so different.
I trust this has given you some information and “food’ for thought about alternative milk sources for your breastfed baby / breastfeeding journey. The journey is yours and your babies – you do what feels right in your heart!
My name is Jackie O’Neill, I am a Doula who is inspired to help and support Women through their pregnancy, birth and postpartum period. I strive to keep myself informed with the most up to date evidence based information and resources.
“Live your life, Love your body, Birth your way”
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