The story of mothers sharing their milk is nothing new; long before Mother’s Milk Banks there were wet nurses, or just a milky mama willing to tide a hungry baby over until his own mother got back. As the benefits and natural wonders of breast milk are being discovered study by study, milk donation and official Milk Banks are becoming more common, and women blessed with abundant milk supply are supporting those who are having a harder time feeding their babies. It’s a natural instinct, to help out a baby in need, and breast milk is naturally better tolerated, especially by babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
We are lucky to have three women in Earth Mama circles who have experienced the miracle of donated breast milk directly. Diba Tillery is a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse who also founded Babies411, and has seen the benefits of donated breast milk for sick babies. Jennifer Taggart is The Smart Mama, and knows what it’s like to have too much milk and be able to help someone who doesn’t have enough. Melissa Moog from Itsabelly Baby Planners had an Aha! milk bank moment when her twins were born. We proudly present their stories to you, in their own words.
Diba Tillery RN, BSN, IBCLC, CPST (Babies411)
As a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) nurse, I have seen first-hand how donated breast milk can save lives. Life in the NICU is stressful for parents and can affect mom’s milk production, especially when a child is touch-and-go for months. I will never forget the babies who would not have survived if it weren’t for the generous donation of breast milk.
Premature infants are a vulnerable population that benefits tremendously from the use of breast milk. Normally, a 32-week baby would obtain all the needed nutrition from his mom via the umbilical cord. Babies born prematurely, however, must now use their digestive systems and can no longer depend on protection from their mama. Preemies who are started on feedings are at risk for a serious, life-threatening condition known as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Premature babies have immature systems, including bowels, and are prone to infection. When bacteria build up in the small and/or large intestine, inflammation occurs and the infected area of the bowels begins to die. Formula has been shown to increase the likelihood of NEC, whereas breast milk protects the baby’s gut from invading bacteria.
Not all women have the luxury of an abundant milk supply, but if you are one of them, please consider donating your excess milk. You never know when you generous act will help a baby survive.
Jennifer Taggart, The Smart Mama
I was a mom with too much milk. Way too much milk. After giving birth, I sought advice from the lactation consultant at the hospital. I was planning on going back to work after 2 months, and wanted to make sure that I started breastfeeding and pumping correctly so that I could make that transition easily. She told me to feed my baby on one breast while pumping on the other, then switch, then pump both when the baby was done. I did this from the very beginning, at every single feeding.
And, well, in short order, I had way too much milk. My body thought I had triplets, and I was engorged virtually non-stop. My baby got so much milk that he was cranky because he wanted to take longer to eat, but I filled him up in less than a minute. By the time I went back to work, I could fill 2 six ounces bottles pumping in about 2 minutes flat after feeding my baby. We had over 300 ounces stored, and every day I added more.
By the time my baby was about five months, I was throwing milk out. I happened to mention it to a friend, and she told me her sister was desperate for breast milk. Her sister had a medical condition that prohibited her from breastfeeding, but wanted breast milk for her baby. The milk bank available to her simply did not have enough. So we arranged a private exchange – I gave her all my extra milk. She was comfortable taking my breast milk because she knew about my non-toxic living habits, and I was comfortable giving it to her in light of the medical screening I had undergone. I ended up donating 1,200 ounces to her and her baby. Helping another mom give her baby healthy breast milk remains one of my most satisfying acts.
Melissa Moog, Itsabelly Baby Planners
An excerpt from Not My Mama’s Breast Milk – My Personal Aha Moment About Breastfeeding
Five years ago I became a new mom to my daughter Isabella and though I nursed and pumped regularly and followed my lactation consultant’s advice, the amount of breast milk I got barely measured one ounce! I remembered going to a Mommy and Me class and during the session a fellow new mommy told me she was bursting at the seams with breast milk and she’d be happy to give me some of hers. Inside I was livid (hormones raging of course) and actually so offended that I drove home in tears. I was offended because I took it very personally that I couldn’t give my baby MY breast milk and why on earth would I accept another mom’s breast milk to feed my baby anyway? It was a totally foreign idea to me at the time, not only because the milk didn’t come from MY body but I also felt like there were health risks. In the end, I knew the other mom meant well but I really wasn’t emotionally capable of understanding her offer to help me at the time.
Well, let’s now fast forward to July 21, 2011 when my beautiful girl and boy twins were born. I promised myself I would try EVERYTHING possible from day one to breastfeed my babies even though I knew I had production problems from the last pregnancy. I was definitely determined to feed my babies MY breast milk. Well, in the end because the babies were slightly premature (I carried them to 37.5 weeks) I was also able to get a prescription for banked breast milk from my doctor and fed them with a syringe through finger feeding. Additionally, knowing that I might not be able to produce enough breast milk by the time I got home we ordered banked breast milk to be delivered in time for our homecoming. I was very thankful for this option!
My personal perception of never EVER wanting to feed my baby someone else’s breast milk did a complete 360 degree turn! It was my “AHA” moment five years later realizing that feeding your baby banked breast milk was absolutely safe and really good for them. I embraced the idea that even though I couldn’t supply my babies breast milk that as long as they were growing healthy feeding them banked breast milk was the next best thing! It was also comforting to know through the milk bank that other mamas were willing to share a precious gift to keep my babies thriving.
Last year, Itsabelly actually helped raise money for North West Mother’s Milk Bank by donating raffle items and connecting them with the local news station to bring awareness about their mission to establish a milk bank locally. After all, I had to get the breast milk for the twins shipped from San Jose, CA and the thought that many mamas are donating their milk in Portland but its being shipped to a bank in San Jose, CA or Denver, Colorado was crazy to me! My hope is that this post will bring more awareness to the public that milk banks are so very critical to many babies’ survival.