Mama's Milk

This is a mega long post ... bear with me as I spill my heart all over the internet :)

It was very difficult for our family to decide for me to return to work at the end of my blissful, 18-week maternity leave. But, with all trying situations in life there is a silver lining.

At the time of our decision we didn't know about the silver lining. I honestly didn't feel like there was much purpose for my return to work. Well, other than the lovely paycheck that graces our bank account every 2 weeks. I felt, and still do feel, that my primary purpose is caring for my daughter, husband and home. It's not easy feeling pulled in so many directions.

The week before I returned to work I discovered I had excess lipase in my stored breast milk. Here's a layman's version of what this means ... Excess lipase is an enzyme which helps milk to be digested. When there is extra lipase the milk starts to digest before it is consumed. This process makes the milk smell/taste bad once thawed. My sister was a Biology minor and is almost a middle school science teacher could probably give you the whole molecular break down of this, but the bottom line is, before you store too much milk check it for lipase!

So, there I was, one week before returning to work with 200+ ounces of frozen milk that Jemma wouldn't drink. Lipase milk can be corrected by a simple scalding process, but only before the milk is frozen. I wasn't worried about my supply. I knew I would be able to pump, scald and store enough milk for her once I returned to work. So the question was ... what was I to do with the 200+ ounces I had pumped during my maternity leave?

Being the info gatherer I am, I discovered Simply Rebekah's blog and began researching donation. The San Jose Mother's Milk Bank is the closest to my hometown and in February I started the screening process. Excess lipase is not an issue when donating to a milk bank for a number of reasons. I was, and still am, thrilled to find a way to share the milk we could not otherwise use.

While I worked through the screening process (a simple application, waiver from my and Jemma's doctor and a blood test) I continued pumping during my 2 breaks at work. Each evening my sweet husband or I scald the milk and prepare it for storage - either in the fridge for Jemma to drink the next day or the freezer for later use.

By the end of February our chest freezer was brimming with milk. Some was unscalded and waiting for my donor approval with Mother's Milk Bank. Some was scalded and waiting for Jemma. This is where the silver lining really starts to shine ...

Right now Jemma only drinks 4 ounces of milk during the day - a snack in the morning and a snack in the afternoon. Her nanny brings her to my work each day for a hefty nursing lunch. And she nurses throughout the night. Lucky me :) This cycle leaves us with lots of extra milk on a weekly basis. I have replenished our freezer stores with scalded milk and still have ounces to spare.

Enter Eats of Feets.

This non profit organization is located on Facebook, divided by state and is a resource for informal milk sharing. Moms in need of milk post a donation request and moms with extra milk post donations available. Search Eats on Feets on Facebook to find your chapter and you'll see what I mean. Each mom screens their own donor and sets up all the details of their milk sharing partnership. It's actually quite simple and quite genius.

Through Eats on Feets I have connected with a wonderful mom and 8 month old baby who are able to use my extra milk. This little one has benefited from donor milk for the last 4 months and I am one of her donors!

When I tear up over being a working mom I'm encouraged knowing that my milk is nourishing Jemma, my Eats on Feets baby and many others who are receiving my milk through Mother's Milk Bank. This is my silver lining. This is the purpose I need to get up each work day and leave home. If I hadn't returned to work I most likely wouldn't have started pumping. If I hadn't started pumping I would have never learned about excess lipase, Mother's Milk Bank or Eats on Feets. But since I do work outside of the home, I do pump and now I'm able to pass on the blessing of my extra milk. That is fulfilling. It reminds be of the verse in Isaiah where we are promised "beauty from ashes". Sharing my milk is a beautiful thing born out of the sorrow of leaving my baby at home each day.

I know not everyone is blessed with extra or even enough milk. Since I am, it feels wonderful to share the blessing. I know I'm one of the lucky ones. Pumping is a very small sacrifice for me. I'll most likely pump with my future babies if the circumstances allow so I can continue as a donor. Eats on Feets often talks about milk being a free flowing resource and therefore should be shared. I agree.

This post has been a few weeks in the making. Initially I hesitated sharing about my experience. Informal milk sharing (also know as peer to peer milk sharing) has been in the media quite a bit lately and it doesn't always have a positive spin. But, for me and the mama/baby I've teamed up with, it's right.

I decided to only send my excess lipase milk to Mother's Milk Bank for a few reasons. The main ones are the accessibility and cost. Milk from a milk bank is only available with a prescription and it costs approximately $4/ounce (a processing fee, the actual milk is free). The little baby I donate to needs around 30 ounces each day. If she had a prescription (which she doesn't) it would cost her family $120 every day; an unrealistic cost for most. Informal milk sharing fills a need within every community and as long as it's free, the risks are quite low. When it's free there isn't an incentive for moms to pump and share other than their desire to give. It takes time, emotional energy and in my case lots of food. I swear, I have never eaten more in my life. Nursing kicks up my hunger like no other! And, if you think about it, milk sharing has been around forever in the form of wet nurses. In so many ways it takes a village to raise a child; milk sharing is just one of them.

So, that's that. A long, but heartfelt story of this mama's milk. If you've never nursed it probably sounds quite foreign. Don't let it scare you. Breastfeeding is truly a gift. Whether you do if for a day, month, year or beyond nothing equates to nourishing a baby with something so unique as breast milk. Before taking on this "womanly art" I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into - milk blisters, clogged ducts, excess lipase, formal donation and informal sharing. It's been a journey to say the least!

I can't help but close with a big thank you to these wonderful people/organizations who have helped me along my nursing journey:
  • My mom who nursed my sisters and I when we were babies (a rough total of 48 months between the 3 of us). She also helped me survive the process of my milk coming in (which happened on my 24th birthday), bought me cabbage for engorgement and provides lots of ongoing nursing support. She bought me my first few nursing bras too :)
  • My husband who has been the ultimate breastfeeding supporter.
  • My mother-in-law who set a wonderful example of a successful working/nursing mom.
  • My 2 La Leche League leaders who have answered TONS of questions. If you are not a part of LLLI and are nursing, join a group! It is so fun to meet up with other nursing moms who get what you are going through. It is lovely to not feel alone.
  • The San Jose Mother's Milk Bank for accepting what I first thought was useless milk. Very sick babies survive because of their work.
  • Eats on Feets for creating a priceless network of moms and babies. Little ones all over are getting otherwise unattainable milk due to their organization, persistence and philosophy.
To date I have donated 382 ounces of milk. As I write, a big box is being overnight shipped to San Jose for processing. Tomorrow I'll be meeting up with my Eats on Feets mama/baby with another 62 ounces. Because I have been blessed, I am choosing to bless others. Beauty from ashes. My silver lining in an otherwise difficult situation.

Please comment with how have you been able to bless someone lately. Big or small, our sacrifices and kind words make others' lives easier. And, if you have any questions, comments or concerns about what I've shared don't hesitate to comment or email me at thatmamagretchen@gmail.com.

48 comments:

melissa joanne said...

Awesome post! I love Eats on Feets :)What a wonderful thing you're doing!

Nessa said...

That is awesome Gretchen... I always had just enough milk. In the end - I had a little extra to make cereal. I felt very lucky to have breast fed Eva until she weaned herself. It is amazing that you are giving someone else this gift too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Gretchen, you have been such a wonderful blessing for my little girl! You are giving her such a precious gift, which is helping her to grow so big and strong.

I loved reading about your story. It makes me feel like even though we are on different sides of this spectrum, we have a lot in common too - We have both experienced some loss, but yet through all this, there has been many positives with learning all about nursing and breast milk and meeting new people!

Thank you once again for all you do. I find your positive attitude contagious. Can't wait to see you today :)

Jaimee

Anonymous said...

Awesome!! You are very blessed to have such an abundant milk supply. you obviously make great milk, as Jemma is thriving at 20+ pounds! Good job, mama!

Maria said...

Gretchen,
Thank you for being a donor and for writing so beautifully about the milk sharing experience. As a mama of a recipient baby, I am grateful to the kind, generous women such as yourself, who choose to help a baby (and mama) in need. Knowing that my baby is getting the best nutrition available is such a relief. Thank you, I hope your story inspires others.

Mom said...

Your Mama is so proud of you! What a beautiful writing of your nursing journey thus far.You will always have precious memories of your nursing times with Jem...I have those tucked away in my heart of my special times with you. I love your "beauty from ashes" perspective....God is able to take those "problems" and turn them into blessings. I'm proud of how you refused to let your milk issue stay a problem:)

Wiley said...

Love that you made the world you found yourself in work. Love that you work extra to make more milk for other babies. Love that you are willing to talk about it.

I was pregnant with twins, but lost one to a cord accident at 24 weeks which put me into preterm labor. We were able to keep them in for almost six weeks and so they were born one day short of 30 weeks. My son was in the NICU for 53 days and couldn't breastfeed for about the first month of that, so I had an exclusive relationship with a double pump. Between the twin pregnancy and the double pump I am making between 1.5 and 2 liters a day of milk. He is home now and breastfeeding more, but I still pump at least five times a day, so I still have at least a half a liter a day.

I have given milk to a mom in the NICU whose baby was not eligible for donor milk (it is in such short supply they only use it for those born at 28 weeks gestation or less), given to a couple strangers from Eats on Feet, mailed to a friend on the other side of the country who needed a temporary fillin and have repeatedly donated to the Milk Bank.

I have come to the conclusion that I prefer to give to the Milk Bank, but will give a stash to others who need it. The main reason for my preference for the milk bank is the issue of life versus death. They use donor milk for the micro preemies. These babies, born at less than 28 weeks gestation, are at risk of a condition called necrotizing enterocolotis or NEC. The intestines more or less start to rot or die with this and the incidence in babies fed formula is around 12-14% while it is less than 1% with breastmilk fed babies. So it literally is the difference between life and death. I meet the very strict donor requirements for the milk bank and so I feel as long as I can meet their requirements, I want to keep helping those babies. I don't think I would feel as strongly (or be as willing to abstain from taking even a Tylenol if I have a headache!) if I hadn't seen those babies.

I completely understand the cost issue. For mothers who just don't have the supply, milk banks are prohibitive. And just because it isn't a question of life or death doesn't mean they don't need milk, so I am so glad that things like Eats on Feet have developed. But those babies and their mothers are often willing and able to take milk from donors who take things like Tylenol.

This being said, when a good friend looked like they were going to need a steady milk supply, I knew I would give them the milk over the milk bank.

THis is my long ramble to say, go milk!

My own thoughts on milk recently were these: http://wileydise.blogspot.com/2011/03/psst-got-some-breast-milk-step-into-my.html.

Gretchen said...

Thank you so much for sharing about all the NICU details! I had no idea about the complexity. I'm heading over to read your post now :)

Jennifer de Cupcake said...

Hey I admin the Central AZ eats on feets page, I just donated to a little girl visiting from Ohio! So thankful for you sharing your story! I love this blog and was stoked to see this post!

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MamaKatie said...

Wow this is wonderful! It is so good to here about your experience with breastmilk donation. I too, found out about breast milk donations when I was pregnant with my first last spring. The only info I had ever heard about breastmilk sharing before was a really negative 20/20 exclusive about the breast milk black market. I heard about the Mother's Milk bank in my child-birthing class and I decided before my baby was even born that I would try to donate if I could. I was lucky I didn't have to go back to work this year so I was able to EBF my baby and then pump 1 additional time a day to store. By doing this, I was able to donate about 1000 ounces between the Mother's Milk bank and Eats on Feets. I think all the time about how awesome it would be if more people knew about these options and if breastmilk sharing was more legitimized--as it was before the advent of formula. I hope that with my future babies I am able to donate even more, now that I know what I am doing. I also hope a whole bunch of future mommies read your post here and are motivated to donate as well.

Misty Lang said...

Good for you! I love that you're donating AND spreading the word.

Personally, I've donated around 9000oz over the past 4 years, in addition to breastfeeding my own 5 babies :)

ThatMamaGretchen said...

Ohmygoodness - that's amazing! Great work mama! What a blessing you have been to your children and many others :)

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