Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Scared milk-less

Milk sharing has been in the news somewhat, of late. Emma Kwasnica, renegade that she is, with the help of many other like-minded renegade mamas, has launched a global network, through Facebook, called Human Milk 4 Human Babies. The aim of the network is to connect moms who need milk for their babies, with other moms, who have milk that they can share. Boom. Done. Next.

This was about meeting a need. The World Health Organizations position on infant feeding is that if, for some reason, a mother is not able to feed her own baby, breastmilk from another mother is a better alternative than formula. Milk banks do exist that could theoretically meet this need, but there are some problems. First of all, there are very few of them, so the milk that they do have to give gets prioritized to very sick or premature babies - the infants that desperately need the milk. Secondly, milk bank milk is almost always pasteurized, which turns breastmilk from the living miraculous stuff that it is, into dead milk, losing much of it's value. Finally, it costs money to access the milk of many milk banks. So even if your baby is among the few that make the cut, and you are happy to accept dead milk, you may still have to come up with the cash to cover it.

The medical community is aware of how difficult it is to access human milk when you need it. This is why they do not often advise mothers to try this option. Instead, supplementing with formula is quickly suggested.

I do not intend here to go into why that is such a poor choice. Suffice it to say that there are mothers out there for whom supplementing with formula is not a viable option, or at least not one that they are comfortable with. So, do they have to? No other choice?

Breastmilk is not a scarcity! Many mothers have ample for their babies, and then some. People struggle with oversupply! It is also a vastly renewable resource - empty breasts will fill themselves again. It should not be so hard to connect people who need milk to people who have milk to give. And it turns out it isn't. But fear is alive and well.

As soon as someone (cough, cough, Emma) decided they were done waiting for the medical community to fix this problem, and opened up a way for donors and recipients to match up, there was massive push back. It must not be safe, right? People could have disease! You never know what they might be smoking in their spare time. That's just gross, anyways. I could never do it.

Really, all of the arguments against this wonderfully simple solution to a common problem sound the same to me as razor blades in apples at Halloween. Which has never happened, by the way. I dare you to prove otherwise. I doubt that there are all kinds of sadistic lactating weirdos out there, masquerading as concerned moms, handing out drug-laced breastmilk just for jollies.

Here are a few facts for you:
  • Human Milk 4 Human Babies donors do not charge for their milk. There is nothing to be gained by donation, save the truly awesome global village feeling that you are helping to feed another's child.
  • Milk sharing is done person to person. That means you meet that person you are getting milk from. You ask questions. You go to their house and meet their family. And you decide whether or not your baby eats that milk. You decide.
  • This is not a new idea. Wet nursing has been done throughout the generations.
And, now a confession. I am sure this will cause your mind to reel.

My name is Lisa, and I have donated my milk to a stranger.

Woot! Weirdo! Better click through to the next blog, she has clearly lost it! But before you do, read just a teensy bit more.

I say stranger, in that this was someone that I had met over the Internet. But when she sat in my living room with her husband and new son, and we chatted while my similar-aged daughter cooed in her swing nearby, 'stranger' was not the word I would have used. We were just two moms. She had a problem, and I was in a position to help her out, in a meaningful way. I am so glad she was not too scared to accept my help. Donating milk was hugely rewarding to me, even renewing much of my faith in the spirit of community.

If only more moms were not scared milk-less. We don't always need to turn to the authorities to fix our problems. Sometimes, with a little courage, we can find our own solutions.
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