In many ways, becoming a mother and doing what, to most, comes naturally feels like a right of passage. But what happens when you can't breastfeed because of cancer-caused mastectomies or a medical condition that limits your breasts' ability to produce? What if you've adopted only to find that your babies aren't thriving on formula? As a mother, not being able to give your children the bare minimum they need to live is heartbreaking. On top of that sense of what you "should" be able to do, being told that this "liquid gold" (as breast milk is so often referred to) is the absolute best thing you can do for your babies but, try as you might, you just can't provide it, is enough to send any mother into a frenzied search for an answer.
Recently I was helping a mother of 6-week old twins who had been hit by a double-whammy: she wasn't able to produce enough breast milk to feed them but her boys couldn't tolerate any type of formula. Here was a conundrum, how would she feed her children? Her story intrigued me and made me wonder whether I would have tried to continue being able to give my children breast milk once my own milk production ended, if I had known what I know now.
There are a variety of ways to go about getting breast milk if your babies are in need. One of the best resources is MilkShare which describes itself as "simply an informational resource to help you learn about milk donation and to connect families who can help each other". MilkShare has very good resources for guidelines to follow if you are planning to request milk donations, information on the process, a lactation induction protocol for adoptive mothers (who knew?!), as well as some truly heartwarming stories from both donors and recipients of donated breast milk. In case you were wondering, donating milk isn't illegal, although charging for it is. MilkShare follows the same guidelines for donor screening and safety precautions that milk banks do.
What are milk banks you may ask? A very simple way to look at this service is to compare it to a blood bank. We are all familiar with the concept of donating blood and having transfusions. Donor milk banks receive milk from lactating mothers who have been carefully screened for health behaviors and communicable diseases, similar to the way blood banks screen donors. Milk is transported to the milk bank frozen. The milk from several donors is pooled after thawing, and then heat-treated to kill any bacteria or viruses. The milk is processed and then refrozen. It is only dispensed after a sample is cultured and shows no bacteria growth. Milk is shipped frozen by overnight express to hospitals and to individual recipients at home. The milk is dispensed by physician prescription or by hospital purchase order only.
There are a number of milk banks located throughout the country. The Human Milk Bank of North America is a professional membership association for milk banks in Canada, Mexico and the United States and has set the standards and guidelines for donor milk banking for those areas since its founding in 1985. The HMBNA is a great place to start if you're looking for a milk bank as it lists contact information for all of the ones associated with it's organization. Milk banks will ship frozen breast milk to you for a nominal processing fee which covers the expense of collecting, pasteurizing and dispensing the milk. In some cases, these costs will be reimbursed by your insurance carrier; discuss this with your pediatrician as a prescription is needed first.
If you need any support with breast feeding, whatever your situation, there are numerous resources available. One very popular and helpful site is KellyMom.com which has many resources listed as well as a very active chat forum. La Leche League can also be a valuable resource for information. In my experience, some people involved with LLL can be quite dogmatic about their views on breastfeeding, but this does not take away from the fact that they are extremely knowledgeable and can be of great service to you if you have questions regarding any aspect of breastfeeding and milk production. A Lactation Consultant can be of great help even if your problems producing milk stem from a medical condition. Here in LA, The Pump Station is a great place to ask for a referral. You can also ask at your birth hospital for recommendations or check out the International Lactation Consultant Association for a list of LCs to contact.
I nursed our twins for just about seven months and stopped only because my milk production ended after a traumatic and stressful event in my life at that time. Perhaps, had I known then about all of the potential help there was out there, I might not have given up so easily. I wonder, too, if I had been one of those mothers whose milk supply was so copious, would I have considered being a donor? Again, knowing what I know now about how critical breast milk is for some babies' survival, I don't think I could have done otherwise. I am a believer in the idea that when one is blessed by abundance, it is one's duty to share that gift with others. In this same vein, I felt compelled to share this story because, like me, perhaps you had no idea this need existed. And perhaps, like me, you will share the story with others and all of this sharing will result in more babies getting that liquid gold they so desperately need.
Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
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