It's National Breastfeeding Week and Baby-Bug and I want to share a story with you. He is, of course, all about nursing. He's nursing while I type this.
Last winter, our midwife called us. Her client, our dear friend, had a preemie in the NICU. The baby was fine, the parents were scrambling to cover their bases to meet the needs of their two year old, the preemie, and selves, but generally fine. Meal trains were organized. Child care supports were planned. The community had this family is their loving embrace, doing all that could be done to ease this new baby's early arrival.
But there was a problem. The Mama's milk supply wasn't responding well to the pump. So many things happen when you nurse a baby; smelling their head, rubbing their back, counting their toes, hearing them gulp their milk and grunt in satisfaction, feeling the weight of a relaxed baby as their tummy fills. All these little details (as well of the logistics of mouth & tongue suction) help milk let down, but they just aren't there when one is attached to a pump. It's a machine. So her supply was dropping.
Donated milk at our hospital is hundreds of dollars per ounce. I understand there being a charge; testing, storing, and other safety concerns cost money. But it's donated. Milk mamas pump it from the good if their hearts so babies get the milk they need. Hundreds of dollars per ounce? And its not usually covered by insurance. Dig deep in those pockets and take a second mortgage on your house, folks…
Sorry. Tangent. Anyway. My midwife called.
Could Baby-Bug be persuaded to nurse this other Mama? Would I be okay with that?
Of course I was okay with that. I've nursed other babies when necessary (with their parent's blessing) and other people have nursed my babies. I've donated extra milk from each of my babies. No big deal. I love seeing the kids to whom I've donated – thriving and awesome and growing. It's fun to point out milk siblings to my kids. I asked if the family needed extra milk as well, since both breasts and freezer were over-flowing.
Our midwife explained the scene. The Mama “could bring in only *her* milk, in the approved hospital containers”. My milk hadn't been screened and approved to be Liquid Gold in the hospital freezer. Baby-Bug couldn't be brought to her. No one could know what we were doing. For something as simple as nursing and pumping, it all felt very cloak and dagger.
Here's what happened. I would hold off nursing Baby-Bug for a couple of hours, to get him good and hungry. That was the hardest part for me. He got hungry and my breasts got full. The Mama in need would come visit. I'd hand her Baby-Bug and grab my breast pump. She'd nurse my guy and I'd pump my excess milk into *her* special containers. We'd have a nice visit and chat. Baby-Bug was only too glad to help out. After a few of these visits, her milk came in all the way and her supply stayed strong and stable.
Now, months later, the preemie is a competent nursling, growing, bright-eyed, and cute as anything.
Here's the thing. If the hospital had gotten wind of our machinations, they could have called Child Protective Services and taken that baby from its parents. We all would have been in trouble. For making sure a Mama could nurse, and her baby got the food he needed.
There are safety considerations with donated milk. Knowing who made your milk, a bit about their history, what their diet is like, if they take any medication; these are all important things to know. But if you know the family and you are comfortable with their milk, is there a real issue? That baby could have been fed a McDonalds Chicken Nugget as his first food (guaranteed less nutritious and more suspect than my milk) and no one would blink, let alone call CPS.
Once upon a time, this kind of shared nursing was normal. A mom not able to nurse was a reason to seek out another lactating and willing mother, or a wet nurse. Mamas share milk. Mamas have always shared milk.
When I've told this story to friends, I've been lauded as an activist or a hero. I'm not any of those things, really. There wasn't anything heroic for me; it was simply the right thing to do. And activist? Maybe. But I'd rather live in a world where sharing milk and nursing when necessary isn't activism but just one of the things a Mama can do.
You can read my other posts about my nursing adventures here: