05 Aug Breastmilk or Bust
Does the Rocking Chair Look Good Next to the Deep Freezer?
By Amanda Mellowspring, MS, RD, CEDRD, LD/N
Eat from the Earth Nutrition Counseling, LLC
We all hear stories about “the crazy things” that mothers will do to care for and protect their children. I, along with many of you, also thought I was immune to such craziness despite my big heart…until I actually became a mom myself! Oh yes!
First, I will declare that “crazy” is not the right word for what I will share below, nor for most of the decisions we make as parents. While others may have their own views on our choices, the decisions that feel right in your family do not require approval from others. So, here’s a portion of my story…
In 2012, my husband and I welcomed a baby boy into our lives through adoption. What a powerful experience (which is an entirely separate story)!
As with any parents, our discussions had thoroughly covered a million topics on how we would care for this child. We reached out to only a few family and friends before his birth to avoid spreading the word in such a delicate situation (again another story altogether). One topic that arose as we spoke with another family that had recently adopted a child was feeding. Now, I certainly think most families have some discussion about feeding, so I don’t think being a dietitian really impacted me all that much. My friend shared with me the idea of breastmilk donation. I was immediately in LOVE and curiously asked a million questions about safety, quantity, storage, resources, and networks and then we were off! We eagerly met with pediatricians in our area to find a good fit before the big day and asked for their feelings about our decision to pursue breastmilk donation, at least as much as possible. We purchased a deep freezer for our milk storage & pre-purchased breastmilk bags to trade these amazing mommas who would offer us milk. We nervously contacted our local midwife to explain our situation and ask if she knew any mothers who may like to donate. Interestingly, this was the only thing, aside from one sweet handmade teddy bear that my husband made, that we allowed ourselves to do to prepare for his birth. Again, side story, adoption is amazing and amazingly scary. Everyone approaches this in their own right way.
The dietitian in me did step in the picture at times. We had an open adoption process, and knew that our birthmother was a beautiful gift in our life, but she also refused anything aside from soda and pizza throughout the pregnancy. Now I am not out to bash a good pizza and soda now and again, but talk about checking my work at the door! And, don’t worry I hold onto my own mom/RD guilt about not trying to induce lactation (yes, you can do this & yes, it is super cool), but there were a million reasons that it wasn’t possible in my life at that time. I have always been a strong advocate for breastfeeding, but prior to hearing about breastmilk donation, I had already adjusted my personal feelings about using formula as I had anticipated it to be my only reasonable option. Yes, formula is formulated to resemble breastmilk and provides adequate nutrition, and bonding really comes from love and not from boobs, so I was okaying myself with this. In learning more about milk donation, I also knew that I would most likely supplement with breastmilk donations and primarily feed formula and it would be fine, more than fine. I mean, how would I actually get enough breastmilk from other women to feed him only that!?! So, my dietitian part obviously loved the idea of the nutrition that breastmilk would provide, but I was most excited surprisingly about two other aspects of this endeavor – introducing milk would allow for flavor variation which would assist with food introduction and the development of his flavor palate & I would meet other moms! When you adopt, you don’t generally build the community that you may get from birthing classes etc, so meeting mommas was on my radar!
Beautifully and perfectly, our little guy was born on 9/12/12 and came home with us just a few days later. Over the next 9 months, I fully engaged in my “crazy” & my amazing husband went there with me! I linked up to every milk sharing network that I could find and began driving all over the state (& even other states when we travelled) to meet moms to trade breastmilk for milk bags and fresh foods from our garden. (The Friday evening car rides that took 3-4hrs round trip to pick up donations, the parking lot meetings at Babies R Us, & the coolers that constantly resided in the back of our car may be the “crazy” that I speak of!) Most of the moms didn’t want anything in trade (although milk bags are expensive and I would have bought a million of them if someone had wanted). Just the joy of knowing that they were offering a priceless gift satisfied these amazing women. (It is illegal to pay for breastmilk in the US just so you know, & I never met a mother that would have ever considered it either.) Amazingly, we were able to provide him with ONLY breastmilk from donation for 9 months – and talk about flavor profile with cultural influences from all over Latin America, Asia, Australia, France, & throughout the US! I will just take a moment here to say that the amount of breastmilk that a woman can produce is AMAZING! Seeing all of the milk that my son took in just by standing over a deep freezer packed, labeled, and organized always left me in awe (& usually tears again…a theme in motherhood I am pretty sure.) We pulled back from the search a bit as he started to eat more solids, because we knew that there were more new little ones out there that could benefit from this precious gift. Our little guy had never even had a diaper rash in this time period, so we wanted other babies to benefit from this nutritional gold mine too.
The idea of breastmilk donation dates back, way back, all the way back! Historically women have always been known to wet-nurse or nurse babies that were not their own. It’s just a love thing. But, even still, my protective mom self and my RD part considered what questions to ask women about their lifestyle, their diet, their health, etc. ‘To each her own’ on this topic, I say. I think everyone should be responsible for asking the questions that fit for them. We did not use formal hospital-based milk banks (which do exist) because those generally are reserved for sick children or children with special nutritional needs & there was not one in our area. For me, I can say that I have hugged every woman that provided for my child in this way & that, amongst a few questions here and there, felt right for me. Mind you, that almost all of these women came to me to offer to donate via midwives, other mommas, & friends. I went to their homes, met their babies, and even shared tears for babies that made the gift possible but didn’t live to see the gifts of their mothers in this way. Many women consider the birth children of their milky moms’ to be “milk brothers/sisters”. All of the sudden, I wasn’t just making momma connections; our family was literally growing with every milky mom we met! Thankfully, somewhere in the craziness of the adoption process and becoming a mother, I had the clarity to ask each woman to pose for a photo with our little one. In total, over 30 heart-touching, heart-wrenching photos of love and gratitude have compiled my little guy’s “Moms Book”. His book includes photos of his birthmother, several women (& a man) who were integral to his adoption, over 30 milky moms, & me. Quite a book. And, we are really loving picture books right now anyhow. We look at it together, and I suppose that one day he will ask why I always cry when we do.