Pre-baby, breastfeeding – let alone milk supply – was a topic I knew almost nothing about. Nothing except that it seemed like a good idea and one I wanted to try when I started having kids. Once I’d had a baby and was actually breastfeeding, the whole game changed.
I was very fortunate baby took to it right away and had no issues latching. My biggest concern was supply.
- Was I producing enough?
- How could I know?
- Was there anything I could do to help it?
And since I’m a perfectionist, I tried just about everything. I drank lots of water. I changed my diet to be heavier in foods I read were good for helping increase milk supply. But more than anything, my breast pump and I became good friends. I started power pumping to help increase my supply. Ten minutes after my baby would nurse, I would pump. In the first couple weeks, I pumped all the time, while also nursing, and I started building up a freezer supply. This gave me comfort in a couple of ways. For one, I could see how much I was producing. For another, I felt like I was building up a supply for when I had to return to work.
milk production became my obsession, which is how I ended up over-stimulating my milk supply.
As I started to learn more about my body and how breastfeeding worked, I felt my milk falling, ALL THE TIME. I became engorged, counting down the minutes to when my baby would want to nurse to ease the pressure, only to realize that it also signaled to my body that more milk was needed.
Several painful days later and a close shave with Mastitis, I finally called a lactation consultant for help. She quickly diagnosed that I was in fact producing enough milk for two babies. I was grateful to discover I didn’t have an undersupply. I actually had an oversupply, which came with its own set of challenges.
I had to work to regulate my body back to what my baby actually needed and then learn to adjust as she grew and changed. But I was still faced with a freezer supply of milk. We could literally not fit any food in our freezer because it was so full of milk. I didn’t worry too much about this since I knew I’d be going back to work and would start using the supply.
Except I wanted to continue nursing, so I continued to pump while at work. And what I found is that I was still overproducing. I would check to see how much my baby drank in bottles during the day compared to what I had pumped and found I was producing at least six ounces more than she was drinking.
As I read and learned more about breastfeeding, I also learned how the make-up of the milk changes as the baby grows. Fat content changes as babies start to become more active to give them more energy in their new activities. Which meant that I didn’t want to bottle-feed the milk supply I had pumped when the baby was three months old to a 10-month-old who is crawling all over the house.
What could I do with my extra milk supply?! I was certainly NOT going to throw it away. Every drop represented minutes of my life, an effort I had given to produce this food for my baby.
And there are only so many other household uses you can find for it – clogged eye ducts, milk baths, skin rash, etc.
Truth be told, I was also ashamed to admit to anyone how much milk I had and my struggles with overproduction. I knew so many women who had supply issues and couldn’t breastfeed at all or breastfeed exclusively. I felt guilty. I hadn’t heard very many people talk about having an oversupply of milk. I worried it would seem like I was bragging or come of insensitive to another mom no matter how I tried to phrase it.
As I agonized over these details, the freezer clock was ticking down, meaning the shelf life of the milk in my freezer was ticking down day by day, increasing my urgency to figure out what to do with it. I finally decided to get over all the “what-ifs” and find other resources for it. I realized I could use it to help somebody else, and that maybe this was a gift for me to share with another mom and baby.
There are a number of ways to share your supply of breastmilk. This list is by no means exhaustive; these are simply the areas I researched:
The first thing I looked into was a milk bank, which is definitely the most formal resource available for sharing breastmilk. These organizations exist both state and nation-wide. You can donate and purchase milk through them. Many work with hospitals to help provide breastmilk particularly to babies in the NICU. You can search for locations by visiting the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. There is a milk bank out of Kalamazoo called Bronson Mothers’ Milk Bank. Some organizations may have a minimum donation amount and may have other requirements such as screenings and donation instructions.
There are also some for-profit organizations that will pay for breastmilk donations. This wasn’t something I was interested in so my resources in that realm are limited.
Milk Sharing Networks
There are many informal networks for sharing milk. In particular, there are many social media groups set-up just for that purpose. As with anything related to social media or the Internet, you should understand the risks of going this route. I know an adoptive mom who recently tapped into this network while on vacation in Florida during the bad storms passing through that area. She was able to meet up with someone and get enough milk to get them back home.
Milk Sharing to Friends or Family
After looking into some of the other options, this is the route I decided to go with. I had a friend who I knew struggled with her supply and a friend who had adopted and wanted to provide her newborn with breastmilk. Both had opened up to me about their desire to provide breastmilk for their babies at least through six months old. I reached out to each of them privately and gently made my offering.
I gave them details about the age of the milk, the age of my child when I pumped it, and my diet and health history. I willingly offered up details about my life and habits. It was important to me that these moms feel comfortable about the makeup of my breastmilk they would be feeding their babies. These were both friends I knew very well and so we both felt comfortable asking questions and providing answers. This might not always be the case in every situation and you’ll need to navigate how much detail you’re comfortable providing.
I will forever be part of my friends’ parenting journeys, and to know I helped nourish their children through my breastmilk gives me great joy. That doesn’t mean that donating anonymously to a stranger you will never know or meet can’t also be rewarding.
Each drop I pumped was a sacrifice in love for a baby – whether mine or another moms. I’m grateful for resources to ensure that my milk supply got to the right baby at the right time.