It Takes a Village: How We Chose Milk Donation

“Formula or Breastmilk?”

“Is she breastfed?”

“Do you nurse or are you pumping?”

These three questions are what I’m asked countless times when introducing my youngest to friends, family, coworkers and doctors – every-single-doctor-appointment. I’ve never been one to join in on the conversations or lean far right or left when it comes to how your child is fed. I’ve always believed, whatever works for your family, whether it be formula or breastmilk, works for your family. And whatever works for mine – works for mine. So please, pretty-please spare the crinkled nose as I continue.

To answer the above questions, she takes breastmilk, she’s not breastfed anymore and no I’m not pumping.

Until now, I would choose carefully who I would explain milk donation to. I don’t think I’ve even discussed with some of our closest families and friends. Why? Well, it’s 2016 and I think some people feel really entitled to share their very strong and otherwise irrelevant opinions now days. This can be a little frightening and downright hurtful, especially when you’re trying to do your best at parenting.

It Takes a Village: How We Chose Milk Donation | Twin Cities Moms Blog{Photo Credit: Jessie Papia Photography}

I get my daughter’s daily supply of nutrition from other women through milk donation, some of these women I may never see again, some I don’t remember their name and some I’ll remember forever due to the generous amounts they’ve supplied to our family and my daughter’s super healthy thigh rolls.

I was able to nurse my son until he had a mouth full of teeth, could walk, talk and motion his little hands for more mommy milk. So upon the arrival of my daughter, I made sure to be fully prepared with all the essentials for nursing. I had the top-reviewed all-natural Indian nursing teas and treats, storage bags, creams, sanitizing wipes/bags, extra parts, covers – you name it, I had it. I was so excited to have that time and that bond again.

When my daughter was born, an unexpected NICU stay was needed due to extremely low blood sugars. In order for us to come home, she needed to eat and she needed to eat A LOT to get her levels where they needed to be. When you’re trying to max out calories for a newborn with a nursing plan in place, this is a problem if your supply isn’t in yet. As we waited for the milk to flow, we resorted to donor milk down in the NICU. I remember my eyes widening thinking my child’s first milliliter of food was actually coming from another woman, but it quickly went away as this is what we needed to do and this is what was going to work for us at the time being.

Once we were able to come home, there were a list of things that played a factor in how quickly my supply was decreasing. First her latch was terrible, she seemed to have no interest, she’d sleep rather than eat, I was stressed to the max living in and out of the hospital all while having just come from a high risk pregnancy, and frankly I was tired. I had tried the treats and teas, beer, oatmeal, lactation consults, pills, pumping, shields… I tried really hard, but the bottom line was, it was still really hard. I can’t count how many tears I cried, feeling as if I had failed, I could have tried harder, I probably shouldn’t have missed that one two-hour pumping period because I chose to nap instead. There came a point where I had to make a decision for my own health whether or not I was going to continue to battle this nursing plan I had and wanted or to quit all together and give my baby the nutrients she needed another way.

Over the few months I battled with nursing, each day I contemplated which formula would work best with her already intense digestive and colic issues. This is when I remembered a friend saying she had recently gotten donor milk online, so I began researching a bit more. Everything I found right off hand was milk banks to hospitals, much like what Elvie received while in the NICU. There would basically be a process and screening needed to be done to prove safe and be cleared to meet the certain donation criteria. Reaching out, I was introduced to two organizations online that allow mamas with an over-supply to donate their milk for free, solely based off your own trust system and the support from other mamas who are there only wanting to help feed those in need.

I put my first request in with a few details about my babe and what we were looking for. Within minutes, I had two messages from nearby ladies who had extra milk in their freezer. I won’t lie, there was still a bit of a hesitation before meeting with my first milk donor. I continued to research more about milk donation, and with each new tab opened, the amount of stress and exhaustion weighing on my shoulders and heart was lessening. There was a sense of relief knowing my baby would feel less discomfort, less cries, less pain and actually be full with each new feeding because of these gracious mamas who provide donor milk.

It Takes a Village: How We Chose Milk Donation | Twin Cities Moms Blog

My daughter is almost eight months old. We’ve soley relied on donor milk for over six months and that baffles me. Where’d the time go? How’d we get here with maybe three cans of formula bought in all these months? This wasn’t in my plan and certainly never in my thoughts that another baby’s mama would be providing for my daughter. But this is how I feed my daughter. This is what breastfeeding looks like to us, this is what has worked best for us. Like many parenting factors with her, we have a flexibility, she’s been introduced to formula and she now handles it just fine. If there comes a time that donor milk isn’t easily accessible to us, we buy formula and there’s no problem, but as long as the option is available, I’ll proudly continue on with this option rather than feel embarrassed or worried I’ll receive a face that resembles the emoji with the squinted eyes and clenched teeth.

Coming upon this option wasn’t easy, in fact it was down right exhausting, but it’s our normal for now. Fed is best, over and over I will say this to myself, as I whole heartedly support how any parent chooses to feed their child. Throughout the months, I’ve come down to a routine on how we store milk, how we thaw milk and how/when we request milk, how we travel and what type of milk we pick up. I’ve driven hundreds and hundreds of miles. I’ve been welcomed into homes with hugs, I’ve shared stories and I’ve waited in parking lots with my handy, empty red cooler next to me as I sip my coffee. There will never be a day that I regret choosing milk donation. My eyes have been opened in such a way when it comes to the beautiful efforts made within this community. So to the numerous mamas who have assisted in feeding my child.

This goes out to you.

To the number of pumping parts you wash, sanitize and disinfect.

To the number of bags you pour, seal and place in your freezer.

To the late nights and early mornings.

To the care and dietary guidelines you follow to provide safe milk.

To the heart you put into donating.

You have made what started out to be an extremely challenging journey a successful one. You have put the needs, nutrition and demands of another mama’s child first – and in this case, that child is mine. You’ve put a new meaning to the phrase, it takes a village, and you will always be part of mine.

It Takes a Village: How We Chose Milk Donation | Twin Cities Moms Blog

For more information on milk donation visit Human Milk 4 Human Babies or Eats for Feets to find your local community.

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