Whenever I meet a pregnant-for-the-first-time mama and she starts sharing her anxieties about impending birth and motherhood, I always like to give one piece of advice: read up on breastfeeding. It is the one thing (OK, one of the things) I went into parenting truly clueless about, because I assumed it would just click. What was to know?
In theory, breastfeeding seems like the most natural thing on the planet. I mean, what could be more simple than popping a boob in your baby's mouth and magically being able to nourish them with nature's most perfect food source? For some people it really actually is that easy, but for others? Not so much.
I happened to fall into the "not so much" category when it came to breastfeeding my firstborn. It was a struggle every step of the way. My daughter's latch was poor and my milk supply was terrible so we had a rough go of it. I tried everything: obscene amounts of pumping, tinctures, special teas, eating all the galactagogues and encapsulating my placenta. We had my daughter's frenulums snipped and she received craniosacral therapy. We saw multiple lactation consultants and went to a breastfeeding support group. I fed her through an SNS system to try to get her to nurse more. I felt like there wasn't anything left to try... and still my supply was not enough.
As strange as I thought milk sharing once was, I came to view it as the special gift—a labor of love and hours spent pumping—for a baby not one's own.
At the time, I assumed that my only option for giving my daughter the nutrition she needed was to supplement with formula. I wasn't thrilled about this prospect, but babies have to eat! But, my midwife suggested a different alternative: donor breast milk. This was nearly four years ago, so human milk sharing probably wasn't quite as well-known of a practice as it is now, but at the time I had legitimately never heard of people doing it and I'll admit that I was slightly put off by the concept. Would I actually want to give my baby milk from another woman's breast?
The answer turned out to be, yes.
My midwives put me in contact with a woman whose baby was only a month or so ahead of my own little one and she kindly offered to save her extra pumped breast milk for me. It was a godsend to be able to give my daughter such wonderful, nutrient rich breast milk to help her grow—even if it wasn't actually mine. In addition to spending hours pumping so I could give my daughter breast milk, this pumping mama and I also formed a bond that was invaluable during those early days of new motherhood. Since this was her second baby, she was a wealth of information and a source of calm in the midst of my crazy.
As strange as I thought milk sharing once was, I came to view it as the special gift—a labor of love and hours spent pumping—for a baby not one's own. Donor breast milk truly is the loveliest kindness I have ever received from a (once) stranger.
If milk sharing is something you're interested in there are many websites devoted to informed milk sharing as well as official milk banks where donor milk can be donated and purchased. If you've ever thought about donating extra breast milk, know that is such an amazing gift to be able to give to another person's child.