Tag Archives: breast milk

When Will We Wean?

Standard

It seems like I’ve been writing posts for the past two years about weaning my daughter, Emily.

It seems this way, because I HAVE been writing posts for the past two years about weaning Emily, who will turn four in November.

While there were several nursing strikes and times where we have skipped sessions, Emily, for the most part, has insisted on having her milkies first thing in the morning, and then right before bed.  I really thought she would wean at two.  Then, when she didn’t, I really thought she would wean at two and a half.  And then three years came and went.

I’ve been talking to her about how she is a bigger girl now, and how it is okay for her to have milk from a cow, or milk from a coconut, or milk from a goat.  She seems intrigued by the idea of all these different milks, but has been fairly insistent on her mama milk.

Since she turned three (and I inwardly thought enough is enough about nursing), I’ve been operating on the “don’t ask/don’t refuse” policy.

Until recently, she always asked.  Until recently, I never refused.

But over this summer, there has been a gentle shift in our breastfeeding relationship.

There were some nights where I was way too hot and sweaty to have her on me, and I gently refused to nurse with her.  During these times she got upset and cried and it was hard for me to tolerate.  Instead, I would offer her a cuddle, or a song, or a story, or to watch “Baby Mine” on Youtube seven times.  She would eventually settle down, and I would maintain my sanity.

The major difference was we were both okay with it.

For me, weaning is an emotional topic.  Emily is my last baby.  I fought so hard to nurse both my children, so the ending of this very special and intimate relationship is a bittersweet for both of us.  To feel I am finally in a place where I am ready, willing, and able to wean Emily completely is a major milestone.

Don’t get me wrong, had Emily been ready to wean at two or three, it would have happened.  I would have felt sad, but would have gone gracefully following her lead.  I’ve certainly never forced Emily to nurse.

I believe a child and mother come full circle with their nursing connection when both are ready.

I know some find nursing a toddler to be crazy or creepy, that I should have set a limit way back when, and that it is just plain weird for a child to be able to ask for what they need/want.

Someone I am “friends” with on Facebook just posted a really judgmental statement about full-term nursing along with an article about a mom nursing her three-year-old.  Out of morbid curiosity, I scrolled down the comments her friends had posted, and was saddened to see so many people who found it to be a negative and icky thing to nurse an older toddler.

I personally cannot fathom why someone would NOT want to nurse a child beyond infancy, but that’s just the point–  I don’t understand it.  It isn’t my brain, or my situation, or my story to tell.  So, I try not to be judgmental about their judgment, or to take it as a personal affront on my beliefs or relationship with my child.  Everyone’s relationship is different.  If you aren’t one of the people in the relationship, then yeah, you’re not going to get it.  But to rush to calling something mean names because you don’t understand it is not nice, IMHO.

What I’m rambling around to A.) is that despite the fact it has lasted longer than I expected, my nursing relationship with Emily feels like it has been right for us.  And now it feels right that I am pushing the weaning a little bit more assertively than I have in the past. And B.) Don’t judge what you don’t know/understand.  Please.  We moms already take enough crap and make enough second guesses for every move we make in this society.

I have let Emily know that it is my body and if I don’t want her to nurse she will have to respect my boundaries.  Because like any other relationship, breastfeeding is a two way street, and boundaries need to be respected and attended to.

Over this summer, there have been other times where Emily forgot to ask for nursing.  And I left it at that.  There have also been a few occasions where Emily slept over at a grandparents’ house and went without nursing and was totally find.

As I write this, it has currently been two and a half days since she last snuggled into me to nurse.

It feels like we are getting there, and I’m so glad we are both okay with it.

I’ve let her know that when she turns four, we will no longer do milkies.  Her three year old brain is processing this information, but it feels like it will be time, and we will both be read, willing, and able.

When Breastfeeding IS All About Me

Standard

Many of you who have been blogging with me for a while now know I have continued breastfeeding my daughter, Emily, who is now three and a half.

Yes. You heard me right. I’m nursing a toddler who is really now more of a preschooler.

I always thought she would self wean around age two, like her older brother did. But two years came and went and we were still nursing quite a bit. Three years passed and she had gotten down to two nursing sessions per day– once first thing in the morning and then right before bed.

To be honest with you, I don’t mind it. To be really honest with you, I love it.

I love the stillness and connection we share during those times, which is really only a few minutes now, before she is off and running or sound asleep. I love knowing her diet is being supplemented with the best stuff nature can offer. I love that it continues to reduce my risks of feminine cancers. I love that we are continuing to share a biological connection, that I continue to nourish her as I did when she was floating inside me.  I love the way she strokes my face and looks at me with total contentment.

Don’t get me wrong–  I have been talking with her about weaning for the better part of a year, but it has been a laid back conversation between us. For example, one night we had this conversation:

“Someday, Em, you won’t need milk-kee-kees,” I said, using her special code word for booby time. “You can have milk in a cup. And you can have milk from a cow, or milk from a goat, or even milk from a coconut!”

“I sink I will have milk fwom a cow,” she said decisively and then paused to think.  I could see the wheels turning.

“What are you thinking, Emily?”

She started to laugh, “I sinkin’ about a cow dwinkin’ milk fwom a cow in a cup!”  We both cracked up over that one and then she decided she wanted her nighttime nursies so I whipped out the boob.

I never planned to be nursing this long, and I keep thinking she will wean any time now, and it will be okay.  I don’t offer her my breast any more, but I don’t refuse it if she asks, either.  She has very nice nursing manners, and she doesn’t bite.  We also had such a hard time nursing in the beginning, that I feel it is our karma to be enjoying a wonderful companionship at the breast now.

It is a nursing relationship that works for us.

For a lot of people, weaning happens naturally at a year or two.  Other women have to wean prematurely due to complications, health issues, or separations from their babies.  Then there are women like me who chose to allow the child to self wean when they are ready.  Whatever the reason, weaning is a personal choice and process that happens between mother and baby.   There should be no judgement or hard and fast rules about how a mom goes about weaning her child.

A lot of people don’t really understand “full-term” nursing.  I think part of this misunderstanding is do to lack of education on breastfeeding in general, and also to lack of exposure.  Many women who do nurse past a year, or gasp! two years, are criticized by friends and family.  I’ve heard moms say even their pediatricians have been critical and negative about nursing an older baby.  So, many women are not open about it when the breastfeed past the times that society thinks is “acceptable.”

Another stumbling block is the overtly sexual connotations breasts have in our highly sexualized culture.  Many find it weird, kinky, or disgusting if a mom choses to nurse past infancy.  This view, IMHO, is totally unfortunate.

Still others believe a child will become clingy, dependent, and socially ostracized if they breastfeed longer than a year.  This is usually not the case.  In fact, there are studies that have shown children who nurse longer are actually more independent, confident, and do just fine socially.  I can tell you for a fact this is the case with my super-strong-willed daughter.

Finally, there is the camp that states it is “all about the mother” when a woman and child nurse into toddlerhood, that it is satisfying some bizarre need the mother has to infantilize their child.  While I can see how this assumption might seem logical, I don’t think it is necessarily the truth.  A child has to be willing to nurse; it isn’t something that can be forced.  Nursing is a relationship.  It takes two to tango.

This doesn’t mean a woman won’t have pangs of mixed emotions when her child weans.  Some women are thrilled to “get their body back.”  Other women feel a sense of loss and sorrow.

For example, I submit the following for your consideration:

Tonight, for the first time ever, Emily responded to my offer to have milk in a cup instead of milk-kee-kees by choosing the cup.  I’ve been offering her this choice for months, and she never once has taken me up on it.  I was surprised when I poured out her milk, but there was a part of me that figured she would still ask for nursing once we got into her room for bedtime.

She didn’t.

And that kind of shocked me.

And it hurt.

I sat down in the rocking chair that I always sit in to nurse her, and then stay in as she falls off to sleep.  She started to climb into her bed and then she came over and hugged me, said goodnight, and covered my face with kisses.

Is this really happening?  I asked myself.  I hugged on her for an extra moment, in a state disbelief, certain she would change her mind and climb up into my lap.

She didn’t.

And then I realized I was feeling a little clingy and uncomfortable, so I let her trot off to her bed.  I knew if I offered, she would climb up on my lap and tuck in, but I also knew if I did that it would be satisfying my own need to be her mom, as opposed to her need to assert herself.

I figured I had to let her go, so as not to give her mixed messages about her ability to wean when she is ready.  Because to give her mixed messages like that would be unfair and confusing for both of us.

None of this means she won’t want to nurse tomorrow first thing in the morning, or be off the boob wagon by tomorrow night, and that’s okay.  But it does kind of make me feel we are a step closer to that weaning stop on our journey.

It took her longer than usual to fall asleep, and I sat there in the rocking chair with my feeling of sadness because three and a half years may seem like a really long time to you, but it has gone by in the blink of an eye, and change is hard.  I feel so blessed that ultimately this has been a wonderful experience, and I have given her a really positive view of breastfeeding that I pray she will carry with her throughout life.

Hopefully, as my daughter and I grow, both as individuals, and together in our relationship, we will find new and wonderful ways to feel connected and safe and special with one another.

What was weaning like for you?  

Breastfeeding is Hard

Standard

IMG_7438My little daughter, Emily, was playing with baby dolls.  She wanted me to play with her.  Handing me a soft, pink baby, she told me baby was hungry.  I pretended to lift the corner of my sweater, pantomimed nursing the doll for three seconds, then burped it.

“No, Mama!” Emily said.  “Dat baby get her milk fwom a cup.”

“Really?” I asked.  “She looks kind of small to be drinking from a cup already.”  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I felt a little judgey  of Emily’s parenting of her doll, so I added, “Ok, Em.  Why don’t you get her a cup and show me how you feed baby.”

Emily trotted off to her kitchen play area and came back with a pretend jug of milk.  She lovingly dumped the milk down baby’s mouth and then held baby to burp her, just like I had.

She giggled when she made the pretend “Buuurrrppp!”

A little while later, Emily picked dolly back up, proclaimed baby was hungry again, and started to tug at the collar of her top.  It took me a moment to figure out what she was trying to do.  When I nurse Emily, either in the morning or before bed, I am usually wearing a tank top that I pull down over my breast to allow her access.  Emily was trying to do the same.

Her top had a snug, high neck, so she was unable to do it.  She looked at me pleadingly.

“I don’t know how to get her undah’ deah,” she said.

“Well, Emily, honey,” I said.  “That shirt won’t work to pull down, so why don’t you sit down with baby and try pulling up the corner of your shirt?”

I thought I was being helpful, but Emily got really frustrated.  After another moment of struggling with her shirt, she threw the baby doll down and stomped off, crying.  When I tried to help more, the situation escalated to a full-scale tantrum that lasted 15 minutes and ended with Emily going down for her nap.

Poor kid.  It’s hard to be three.

But seriously, I’ve been there with breastfeeding.

I remember struggling with my babies to get them to latch comfortably under my shirt.  It was so awkward, exhausting, and painful in the beginning.  I remember the frustration of not to be able to feed my babies quickly, easily, and painlessly.  Ugh.  Not just frustrating, but demoralizing.

I spent hours crying about it during those early weeks of motherhood.  My nursing relationship with my newborn son was initially so awful it contributed to postpartum depression and anxiety.

While I never wanted to throw my babies, I did feel urges to put them down, quietly go make a bottle, and be done with breastfeeding once and for all.

I’m glad I didn’t quit, but perseverance was hard.

With both babies, we developed a nursing relationship that worked for us (after some close monitoring, assistance, and support from a skilled lactation consultant, the pediatrician, and my doctor).  With both children, the first step was addressing tongue ties and nipple infections.

With my son, severe sleep deprivation was contributing to my depression, so I had to come to peace with letting my husband supplement with bottles while I got a few extra hours of sleep.  Because I had trouble responding to a breast pump, we used formula.  In the long run, coming to terms with mix-feeding likely saved any semblance of a nursing relationship with Jack.  He weaned completely just before he turned two.

Emily also needed supplementation due to my experience with crazy nipple trauma, and supply issues when I returned to work.  She was a picky eater, however, and never really took to her bottles the way Jack did.  She ended up nursing all night long to make up for what she didn’t eat during the day, and I was fine with this because it meant she was almost exclusively breastfed.  There were times when I couldn’t pump enough for her and she was offered formula at daycare, especially after she started solids at six months and my supply dipped.

With both kids, I remember feeling really angry at how difficult it was to breastfeed.  I had figured it would be the easiest and most natural thing in the world, as I think many women who plan to nurse their babies figure.  Latch on.  Latch off.

It was shocking to me to find how uncomfortable, time consuming, and confusing it was.  Shocking!

I’m not sure why breastfeeding is hard for other women, but I think in my case, as a very independent, modern woman in a fast paced society, it was a challenge to have to really struggle at something and have this tiny human glued to an organ that in 30-something years had never really been put to the test before.  I was not prepared for the discomfort, supply issues, or sense of being totally touched out.

That, and for all our society advocates for moms to breastfeed, it really isn’t supportive of it in the larger scheme of things.

  • Formula companies lie in wait to prey on new moms who are vulnerable from sleep-deprivation and anxiety of wanting to do everything correctly for their darling new babe, with glossy ads that promise their product is just as good as their own milk (spoiler alert:  it isn’t).
  • In the US, there are no paid maternity leaves, and so just as a mom and baby are establishing their nursing relationship, mom may have to return to the workforce, thereby disrupting lactation.
  • Women often have to fight for their right to pump for their babies in a clean and private space at work, although they shouldn’t.
  • The breast is still viewed as a device of female sexuality, rather than a food-delivery-system for babies.
  • People are all kinds of judgemental and uneducated about when, what, where, how, and for how long women should nurse.  God forbid you nurse a baby past a year, or into toddlerhood, as I did with Emily.
  • Speaking of education, even highly educated people (such as myself) have a general lack of understanding about how lactation works, why it is important, and how to troubleshoot common issues.
  • And don’t even get me started on the controversy about nursing in public.  I mean WHY is that still even an issue?  There continues to be societal stigma around breastfeeding which keeps it from becoming the norm.

The last reason is why, when Emily gives me a doll to feed, I always pretend to nurse it.  I want my children to see breastfeeding as something that is normal, natural, and totally worthwhile even if, as Emily discovered today, it is not always simple.

Did you struggle to breastfeed?  Were you tempted to quit?  How did you make your nursing relationship work for you and your child?    

Ooops. I Forgot To Wean My Child

Standard
The international logo for nursing a toddler. . .

The international logo for nursing a toddler. . .

In the company of an old friend, I happened to mention I am still breastfeeding.  My daughter, Emily, is nearly three years old, and she still enjoys nursing twice a day- first thing in the morning, and right before bed.

It’s just something we do; the cozy and quiet bookends of days which are otherwise noisy, busy, and hectic.

Nursing a toddler is not a matter I give much thought, until it comes up, and then it usually makes others go “hmmmm,” which is what happened in this case.  The subject came up with my childless pal, and she looked at me with wide eyes, her jaw hanging, and gasped, “Why?!”

Nonplussed, I smiled and shrugged.  “I dunno.  She still likes it, I guess.”

“But don’t you have to wean?” my friend asked.  In some circles this sort of response might make me uncomfortable, or even annoyed, but because she never bore or breastfed children, and had no knowledge on the subject, it didn’t really bother me.

“Moms and babies don’t ‘have’ to wean until they are both ready,” I explained.  “At this point, if I just stopped cold-turkey, it would be traumatic for both of us.”

“But your boobs are still enormous!” My friend exclaimed,” Are you saying they are still full of momma-milk?”

I laughed and explained a.) the science behind the supply-and-demand nature of breastfeeding, and b.) that my boobs have always been big, have gotten even bigger with nursing my children, and are likely to stay big beyond weaning.  That’s just my anatomy.

We left it at that.  My friends accept me for being a rather crunchy gal, and I’m sure they chalk my “extended” breastfeeding relationship with Emily up to that.  It isn’t something about which I am ashamed, and I don’t really care if it raises an eyebrow or causes chatter behind my back.  I’m always happy to add a few lines of knowledge to someone’s understanding of breastfeeding, or to normalize it in our society.

While I wasn’t hurt or offended, it did make me question why I was still nursing this toddler.  I nursed my son, Jack, until he was 23 months, and figured Emily would follow suit and wean herself around the same time.  I never really expected to be breastfeeding for this long, yet, here we are.

I sorta’ just forgot to wean her, or more accurately, I just never got around to it.

I’ve written before about nursing a toddler, and usually, somewhere within those posts, I write, “I know our nursing days are numbered. . .”  A few times when Emily didn’t seem interested in nursing, and I thought we were naturally at the end of our nursing relationship.  Well, it has been nearly three years and now I am wondering if our nursing days will ever end.

According to the page about weaning on Kellymom.com, the traditional definition of “weaning” is when your baby begins to eat any food other than breast milk.  In American society, however, “weaning” means packing away the boobs for good and not nursing anymore.  It seems there may be other parts of the world where extended breastfeeding, or nursing beyond one or two years of age, are more accepted.  But it seems like it is generally misunderstood.

Many think breast milk loses its nutritional benefits after a certain point.  This is simply not true.  According to Kellymom.com:  It’s a myth that the benefits of breastmilk stop at a certain point. Instead, they continue and are more significant and longer-lasting for both you and your child the longer breastfeeding continues. In fact, the antibodies in human milk are more concentrated the lesser the frequency of breastfeeding is (say with a toddler or older child). If you nurse on into your child’s toddler years he won’t even need cow’s milk as long as he receives other foods rich in protein, calcium, and fats, and nurses at least a couple of times a day.

In other words, there is still a nutritional benefit to Emily tanking up on mama juice a couple times a day, which may be why she is rarely sick, and why when she does get sick she is usually over it quickly.

It isn’t something we are just doing to be weird, alternative, or because there is a secondary gain of mutual enjoyment from it.

And how about that mutual enjoyment?  I’m not going to lie, I like nursing Emily.  There are times when I feel like maybe I am ready to get my body back, but most of the time I love that my daughter is bonding with me in such a special way, and that she is getting a daily dose of health straight from the tap.  It has not impaired either of us socially.  She is not clingy or dependent on me, in fact, she is a confident youngster with an fiery independent spirit.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer. . . There is no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful to mother or child.”  It has been noted that the natural age for weaning among humans is between two and seven years.

Wait, SEVEN years old?!  Ok, I’m not that girl who will nurse a child big enough to take up an entire couch.  I’m confident Emily will wean when she doesn’t feel the need for nursing any more.

I have set boundaries around our nursing relationship.  For example, she does not have an unlimited-around-the-clock-milk-buffet at her disposal.  Toddlers are naturally distractible creatures, and for a while, Emily was wanting to nurse, get up, wander around, play, and then nurse again.  It was driving me crazy.  So, I made a rule that if she gets up, “the milk center is closed.”  It works for us, although there are times I’ve had to be firm about it.

Emily has always had impeccable nursing manners.  She doesn’t grab at me or beg for boobs when we are out in public.  She doesn’t bite.  Every once in a while she will ask to nurse in the middle of the day, but she is understanding and accepts it when I tell her there is no milk in there at those times.  Her proper nursing etiquette is one reason I’ve been able to tolerate nursing this long.

With my son, who was our first child, I was eager to meet all milestones early.  I couldn’t wait for him to walk, talk, eat solids, use the potty.  He was a quick study, but stubborn.  He taught me that it would all eventually fall into place, but it might not be on my timeline, and that was okay.  As a society, we tend to be very fast paced, to rush things, and to focus on the product or the destination, rather than the process or the journey.

This time around, with Emily, I’ve taken a more relaxed approach to parenting.  In some ways, I am still a huge, stressy mess, but in other ways, I’ve been able to savor a bit more of the journey.  Even when it seems like it is taking forever, when I look behind me, I am always amazed at what a rapid blur it’s all been.

I’ve started talking to her about weaning, letting her know that eventually, she will be a bigger girl who won’t want to nurse.

Her reply:  “No.  I yittle.  I do milk with mama.  It taste yike stwabewee tot take.  It dee best in dee whooole wold.”

Sigh.

It looks like for now we will continue our twice a day pattern, oblivious to the big social clock that is ticking away, and judging us on not doing things quicker.

I know for a fact she will not go to kindergarten wanting to nurse.  I have confidence in this fact in the same way I am confident ALL children learn to use the potty and sleep through the night eventually.  Some kids are swifter than others with their developmental milestones, and others take their sweet time, but they all get there sooner or later.

Are there any milestones you forgot to “do” with your child?  When did you wean?  What factors influenced your decision to wean?  

The Scoop On Poop

Standard

It is amazing how focused you suddenly become on poop when you become a parent.  From the moment your baby is born, you count their messy diapers like rare birds, and closely examine the contents for color, size and consistency.  Green, frothy poop= bad!  Mustardy-seedy poop= hoorray!

After having a baby, talking about poop is no longer taboo.

I even had a conversation with a new dad, at brunch no less, about how his newborn’s poop smelled slightly like roses due to the mama exclusively breastfeeding.  (True story, breast milk poops don’t smell as bad as ones from formula, which in my humble opinion is yet another benefit of nursing.)

Today a dear friend/colleague stopped by my office and we had a chat about poop, but not our children’s.  We discussed  our own irritable bowels.

I shared with her about the miracles of fiber, and she shared her fear of colon-rectal cancer.   Closing my office door, she stepped closer to my desk, and we confided in one another about how our intestines often feel tied in knots from the stress of motherhood, work, worrying about money.

You may be shaking your head in disgust, thinking TMI.  Or maybe you already stopped reading and clicked over to a pretty travel/photo blog to cleanse your mental palate.  I wouldn’t blame you.

But something about my conversation with my pal made me feel great.  Relieved, even.  (OK, that was a really shitty pun.  My apologies.  Whoops!  I did “it” again. . .  )

When I was young, I used to bond with other gal-pals talking about raunchy, sexy exploits.  Or make up.  Or a hot new restaurant.  Or lingerie.  Or how amazing those fingers of that new-guitar-player boyfriend were.

Motherhood has changed the subject matter of my conversations.  As a mom, I spend so much of my time and energy talking about my kids, pridefully boasting, expressing my concerns about their well-being or my frustrations with their behavior.  I rarely get a chance to read or go to the movies, so my commentary on current culture is pretty limited to what I hear on NPR during my morning commute.

Often, I simply don’t get a chance to talk to my lady friends at all.  I shy away from talking about myself outside of my role as mother because it seems this all-encompassing identity.

Chatting about twosies felt intimate and self-centered, and reminded me my poop is important too.  I guess maybe this is my 40-something equavilant of “girl talk.”  Or maybe not.  I don’t know.  It was a nice, little moment of connection that rang a bell of mindfulness for me, and made me realize I need to touch base with my friends (and myself) a little more often.

And let’s face it, I love any chance to talk about how fiber therapy has changed my life.  It just feels like my duty to share.

Have you found you talk about different things as a parent?  What are your favorite or most frequent topics of conversation these days?  

Being Away From Babies

Standard

20140527-104408-38648399.jpgToday I travel to NY for a funeral.  I’ll be staying overnight in a hotel.  Since Jack is still in school, and the kids are really too young to understand grief and loss and the traditions of mourning, I am going by myself.

To some of you, it may sound strange that in nearly seven years of being a mom, I’ve not willingly been away from my family for a full 24 hours.  Of course when I had Emily I was in the hospital for a few nights, and Jack had sleepovers with relatives.  He occasionally sleeps out at the grandparents’, but I’ve never spent a night away from Em.

And she still nurses.

Of course, as I mentioned last week, she is showing signs of weaning.  In the morning, she will only nurse one side.  She sits up after a few minutes and says, “No other side!” then sets to playing or watching Curious George on the ipad.

At night she nurses on one side, then wiggles away to brush teeth, say good night to her father and brother, and generally try to scamper out of bedtime.  I’ll put her in her crib, and she will lie down, but then pop up again and say, “Cuddle mommy.”  Which means she wants to come out and have the other side.  Sometimes she taps my chest with her pointer finger, and says, “Theese side,” with a grave expression, as though she is choosing a bottle of wine.

She only nurses twice a day, but those times are bookends between bedtime and waking up.

I wonder if she will miss me, or if it will hasten her weaning process to miss two nursing sessions with me.

I wonder if I will feel any discomfort from not nursing at those regularly scheduled times.

I stopped pumping nearly two years ago, so there isn’t any freezer stash she can have in a cup, and at this point if I tried to pump I’d likely only get a couple drops, if anything at all, although there seems to be plenty there for Emily when she takes it straight from the tap.  (Babies are far more efficient at getting milk from a breast than a pump is, so not being able to pump anymore is not any indication of supply, BTW.)

I did let her know I would be away, and that her daddy could give her milk in a cup and then she could brush her teeth, but I don’t think she really understood what I was getting at.

I wonder if Jack will behave for his father, and if the children will cooperate and get along with one another in my absence.

It will most likely all go well, and I will be home in time for bedtime tomorrow night.

But still. . .

There is a curious pang in my heart about going away, and especially about being away from my toddler who is almost ready to wean.

How do you handle being away from your children for the night?  Is it hard for you to be away?  Did you ever have to be away from a nursling, and if so, how did it affect your nursing relationship?  

NPR Presents A Biased Story About Milk Sharing

Standard

On my way home from work, I caught a story on NPR about milk sharing– a practice among some breast feeding mothers where a mom with oversupply of milk donates to a mom who needs more.  It is becoming a more popular option for feeding babies.

Before you wrinkle your nose and call me a crazy, militant breastfeeder, hear me out.  There is much to be learned on the subject.

Some women need more breast milk when they go back to work and their supply dwindles while pumping.  Other mom’s who have lost breasts due to breast cancer still want to give their babies breast milk and will find donors.  Organizations online, such as Human Milk For Human Babies (HM4HB), or Eats on Feets can link up moms for milk sharing.  At this point, there are no laws or regulations about milk sharing.

When I initially learned about milk sharing, I was disgusted.  I admit it.  Due to severe nipple trauma, I was forced to stop nursing on my right breast for a period of time while the wound healed.  Concerned I would not produce enough milk for my daughter on one breast alone, I looked into other options.  I did not want to use formula, and someone had suggested finding donor milk.

“Ewwwww!  I don’t want to give my baby someone else’s bodily fluids!” I remember saying.

“But most people consume the bodily fluids of a cow.  How is giving human milk different?”  They countered.  Thinking about it in that way, made sense to me.  I educated myself and the idea not only became less repugnant, but entirely preferable to formula.  Done with proper safe guards, milk sharing can be a good option for moms who do not want to resort to artificial infant milk.

Unfortunately, I did not find any donors in my area, and I did resort to supplementing with small amounts of formula, but I did gain some knowledge about the milk-sharing community.

Most women who donate milk for other moms and babies offer their medical history, including records, if they are requested by the donee.  They also willingly provide information regarding their diets, any medication they take, how much caffeine they consume, etc.  Moms can also find milk donors who meet their child’s special dietary needs.  For example, if a baby is lactose intolerant, a milk donor with a dairy free diet can be identified.  I’ve read ads for breast milk that is gluten-free and vegan!

For added protection against the (unlikely) presence of pathogens, donor milk can be flash pasteurized using simple instructions found on the web.

Most mamas donate their liquid gold for free, although from what I understand there are sites where breast milk can be sold.  Some moms who accept donor milk will offer to supply the donor with the milk storage baggies, or a gift certificate to a store or restaurant to show their appreciation.

From what I’ve gathered in my research, milk sharing has a high satisfaction rate among all involved.

I considered using donor milk again when I went back to work after having Emily and could not pump enough to meet her needs.  Again, I could not find a donor, but if I had, I would have done it.

I was excited to hear what NPR had to say on the subject, but quickly became disappointed when I realized their story was amost entirely anti-milk sharing.  

What I got from the story was that the NICU milk banks never have enough donated breast milk because moms are giving it to each other. So some want to make laws or regulations regarding the practice of milk sharing because if moms can’t give it to each other for free in the community, maybe they will donate more to milk banks.  To drive this point home, they cited a study done by the AAP, stating that donor milk is rife with pathogens and should not be used.  The story ended with a nurse stating that “formula is just fine” as an alternative.

I took the time to email NPR:

NPR can usually do no wrong by me, however your story on sharing breast milk seemed extremely biased and disappointed me.  Your conclusion that formula is” just fine”, makes me wonder if you are in cahoots with Big Pharma who manufactures the stuff.  Many women are uneducated about the risks inherent in using formula for their babies.  To have a reputable station like NPR simply reporting that formula is A-OK is simply irresponsible of you and may discourage a mom from nursing, or encourage a mom to resort to formula when it might not be necessary.  

When done safely and responsibly, milk sharing among mothers is a perfectly acceptable option for babies.  In fact, the World Health Organization rates donor milk as the third choice for feeding a baby, over formula, which is fourth (mother’s milk straight from breast being first, and pumped milk from mother being second).  

I assume the study done by the AAP was subsidized by formula companies to skew the result in favor of formula.  As far as the claims about pathogens, breast milk is actually sterile when proper sanitation is followed, and also contains natural antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.  The story implies that the government should outlaw milk sharing among moms so that more mother’s with oversupply would turn to donating for the NICUs, where pasteurized donor milk is essential to saving babies who’s guts would rot from formula use.  But the story also states that sharing milk is akin to sharing blood and there are dangerous pathogens in breast milk,  and this is why it should be regulated or outlawed.  I don’t follow this logic, since there are ways for moms to flash pasteurize donor milk at home as an extra safety measure.  It seemed this story was biased and incomplete.  

While I understand that milk sharing is not for everyone, it has been done for ages, and can be done safely.  It would have been nice if you had done a little more research on both sides of this story.  Will I stop listening to NPR because of this.  No.  I still love NPR, but this story was a let down (no pun intended).  

I don’t know if I will hear back from NPR, but I’m glad I allowed the lactivist in me to run wild a bit.

I don’t believe formula is poison.  Formula definitely has a role, and as one IBCLC said to me when I was struggling to nurse, we are lucky to live in a place where we have access to clean food for our babies if we are unable to nurse for some reason.  As noted before, I supplemented with formula with both of my kids, but I do believe human milk is preferable.

Just as I am not a militant breastfeeder, I am not a conspiracy theorist.  But I do believe there is some conspiracy among the Big Pharma companies to sabotage women’s faith in their own bodies so they will turn to expensive formulas.  Some women who are highly educated still lack knowledge about benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding, or about the risks inherent in formula use.

Oh, and I never had enough of a supply to create a big stash and donate, but if I had been blessed with the gift of overproducing, you can bet your left booby I would have.

What do you think about milk sharing?  Would you ever do it?  Why/why not?  Have you had any positive/negative milk sharing experiences?