Milk sharing is a persistent taboo in Western society. It’s a paradox of parenting: we gladly give cows’ milk to our infants, yet get queasy at the thought of donor human milk. Why is this?
Trust could be an issue – some diseases can be transmitted via bodily fluids. But more often than not, mothers cite bonding as a core factor in their unease. When breast milk is shared, there is arguably a biological and physiological bond between the donor mother and the recipient baby. The donor is quite literally, giving of herself for the health and well-being of a child she did not even birth, herself. Much of modern society is not yet ready to accept the importance this natural exchange. The idea of accepting another’s bodily fluid is offensive.
How can a mother come to terms with such conflicting emotions while ultimately choosing to give their baby the natural start in life they deserve? Here is Joyln’s story.
“After my water broke at 41 weeks, I wasn’t having consistent contractions. I had planned an entirely natural birth. After enduring over 24 hours of natural labor I ended up having a c-section due to my baby’s poor positioning in the womb. As elated as I was at the birth of my daughter following a long, painful struggle with infertility (I have PCOS) and miscarriage, I was devastated over her birth. I ended up with moderate post-partum depression, no doubt triggered by the birth trauma and subsequent infections and health problems directly related to the C-section.
In the midst of my drawn out recovery, we had problems breastfeeding from the start. I noticed my nipples were becoming increasingly sore, and by the 2nd day they had blood blisters. I asked for help at the hospital, only to be given vague tips about her latch (they told me it looked fine) and directed me to put lanolin on my nipples. I did so, but it didn’t help.
Sinking into depression
I came home from the hospital on day 4, and by that time I was a mess. My baby had gotten to the point where she would only latch on for a few seconds and then just cry and cry. I cried right along with her. My husband was very supportive. He would listen to me cry, and stay up with Brynna at night and gave her the supplements of donor milk while I pumped. He painstakingly fed Brynna through a syringe to give my sore nipples a break.
My friends however, were not so supportive. They told me that formula wasn’t a big deal and that I should consider it instead of going through all the trouble to nurse. I was so emotionally torn from the C-section, breastfeeding was my last hope of fulfilling my original dreams for my baby. I felt like it was the one thing I had left since I had failed at the completely natural birth I so desperately longed for.
One of my very best friends (also my unofficial doula) suspected a tongue tie, so I promptly scheduled an emergency appointment with a lactation consultant. That was the first thing I asked about, and after putting a finger in her mouth for a few seconds, that lactation consultant told me she didn’t have a tie. She gave me some positioning tips (football hold, which did help somewhat) and a nipple shield (which also helped albeit temporarily). At that point my baby had lost 13% of her birth weight, so I was willing to try anything – anything except formula.
After about a week, I noticed my daughter was still losing weight and wasn’t wetting enough diapers. I decided to seek out a 2nd opinion about her tongue tie, as my friend and I still had suspicions that she had one. This next lactation consultant asked me a few questions, and on questioning she was convinced that it was my PCOS causing the low milk supply. I tried to steer the discussion to tongue tie and the symptoms I was having (pretty much every symptom of posterior tongue tie), but she would barely listen. I persisted enough that she finally checked out her tongue, and she told me that my baby had a “slight” tie but that it didn’t need revision. She then told me to buy a pump and supplement her nursing sessions with pumped milk or formula.
At that point we left. I was livid. I was determined not to give formula, and I knew something wasn’t right. My instincts were screaming at me that the LCs were wrong. I ended up messaging my friend’s midwife who gave me tips on how to bring up my milk supply. She told me to stop using the shield, as it was likely the culprit of my low milk supply (in addition to the poor milk transfer from my daughter’s tie – NOT the PCOS as the last LC had told me.)
Using donated breast milk
My friend was so kind and generous to donate her own pumped milk while I was working hard to bring my supply back up. Donor milk really was the biggest gift I could have ever received for my daughter. It was such a blessing. There are gut issues in my family (yeast overgrowth, leaky gut syndrome, allergies, and intolerances) so I was very determined not to give formula due to this, along with the virgin gut theory. It was a little scary asking for milk from my friend because I don’t particularly like inconveniencing anyone, but as she was there for me during my most difficult and vulnerable times (my difficult labor and C-section, and resulting postpartum issues), I really couldn’t think of anyone better to ask. I trust her with my life and my baby’s. Using her milk changed our relationship in that it brought us closer, and I feel that her and my baby have a special bond now as well.
The fact that it was another mom’s milk didn’t bother me at all. I was determined to stay away from formula, and it was the next best thing to my own milk. With donor milk there are safety issues that need to be considered, as human diseases can be transmitted through breast milk, but if a mom is open and up front about what medications she’s on, illnesses, etc, I don’t see a problem. There are also ways to heat treat milk at home. Of course, this also destroys beneficial enzymes and immune factors present in the milk, but it is another option, and it’s always better than formula.
Whilst I got busy with the donor milk and building my supply, the midwife gave me contact information for a local doctor who clips tongue ties. I immediately made an appointment for my daughter to get clipped. She was 4 weeks old. The doctor was very hesitant that my supply would return, as so much time had passed already, and it may have been too late to save my supply. I was saddened at these words, but I was willing to try my hardest to make breastfeeding work. The doctor also questioned whether my daughter really had a posterior tongue tie as well, but thankfully she decided it was best to clip it anyway since I had all of the symptoms. As my daughter’s tongue was clipped, it sprung loose like a rubber band – it was under a lot of tension. After that, it was clear there had been a posterior tongue tie present.
After we clipped her tie, her latch was immediately pain free, and it improved even more over the next several weeks. We also added in some craniosacral therapy to help, as my daughter’s malpositioning in the womb messed up her head, neck, spine, and palate, leading to even more issues with her latch.
Just as I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, nature decided to test my commitment again. My c-section scar became infected and so I was given three rounds of antibiotics to treat the infection. Consequently, both me and my daughter developed thrush and yeast infections. This occurred despite religiously taking probiotics and giving Brynna infant probiotics.
I stopped using the donor milk about a month later. My daughter is now a happy, healthy, 6-month-old exclusively breastfed baby. We still see the craniosacral therapist every few weeks, but those appointments are becoming fewer and farther between.
As for me, I am still dealing with some emotional issues from the C-section, but after seeing a therapist and with plans to attend a support group, I am on my way to being a better mom to my baby, a better wife, and a better person.
I think donor milk is a beautiful gift. In fact, I’m now able to donate to a local mom who has twins! I’m very thankful that I can pay it forward and help someone else and other babies in need.
As for moms who don’t even try to breastfeed, I am saddened but unsurprised given the lack of good information and support. So many things can sabotage the nursing relationship, even so-called “professional” advice from lactation consultants. After my experience I became a lot more sympathetic to moms who try and then end up giving up, because even I almost gave up several times.
However, for moms who don’t even try, I do wonder why. I think any mom wants to give her child the best, so why wouldn’t they try? It makes me sad that those babies don’t get the benefits of human milk. That’s another reason why I advocate donor milk. It’s relatively unknown and many don’t know it even exists. Informal resources like ‘Eats on Feeds’ and ‘Human Milk 4 Human Babies’ are invaluable, but there are also formal milk banks available where pasteurized donor milk can be purchased. Of course, ideally I think all moms should try nursing themselves, but I do believe donor milk is the next best thing.”
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