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Milk Sharing

September 16, 2009 4 comments

All through history, sharing breastmilk was seen as normal, and sometimes the only way for babies to survive. Many moms had a wet nurse, or relied on another woman every now and then to nurse their children, which is known as cross-nursing. Now-a-days, if a woman is unable to breastfeed her child, she usually turns to formula. Donor milk from a milk bank is another option, but is very expensive if you have to pay out-of-pocket. Still, there is an alternative way to nurse a child that more and more women are turning to, which is known as milk sharing. The benefits of breastmilk are plenty, and many mothers feel strongly that even if they cannot supply all of their breastmilk for their baby, that they should still be able to receive the benefits of breastmilk.


While supplementing with donor milk, a mom can use an at the breast supplemental nursing system, known as a SNS (made by Medela), or the Lact-Aid System. These systems “consist of a container for the supplement (either a bag or a

bottle), which hangs on a cord around mom’s neck and rests between her breasts. Thin tubing, leading from the container, is taped to the mother’s breast, extending about 1/4 inch past the nipple. You usually see the tubing going directly from the bottle (between the breasts) to the nipple. You can also wrap the tubing down & around the breast before bringing it up to the nipple.” (Kellymom, supplementer)


A SNS is a great way to supplement, because a baby will be able to still have the close contact with the mother. By still nursing at the breast, the baby will help increase the mother’s milk supply. Other alternative ways to supplement include: finger feeding, using a cup/dropper/spoon, and/or using a bottle. However, introducing an artificial nipple may cause nipple confusion for some babies, and they may refuse to breastfeed afterward.


How to find a breastmilk donor:

There are many resources available to help you find a milk donor. Websites include:


If you are unable to supply your baby with all the breastmilk she needs, partial weaning and combination feeding is an option that may work out for you. Breastfeeding part-time still has great benefits for you and your baby:


  • Comfort, bonding, skin-to-skin benefits. Mom can provide 100% of these even if very little breastmilk is being obtained during nursing.
  • Oral development. The type of sucking required for breastfeeding improves your baby’s oral development (even if he gets little milk).
  • Disease, allergy-prevention, immunological benefits. Research has shown that the benefits of breastfeeding are generally dose-related: the more breastmilk, the greater the benefit. But even 50 ml of breastmilk per day (or less – there is little research on this) will help to keep your baby healthier than if he received none at all. In fact, the immunities in mom’s milk have been shown to increase in concentration as the quantity of milk decreases
  • Nutritional benefits. There are components of mother’s milk which cannot be duplicated – even a small quantity of these can be invaluable to your baby. (Kellymom, weaning-partial)

If you have a low-supply of breastmilk, you can supplement with donor milk while you work on getting your own supply back up. Please check out Kellymom’s information on increasing low milk supply if you feel your milk is low. Milk supplies can drop many times during a nursing relationship for a variety of reasons (hormones, illness, working situations, etc), but in my own experience, I was able to raise it back up again using a variety of methods to increase my milk supply.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Abrahams

The big question that you will always hear when it comes to milk sharing is: “Is it safe?”


Most risks can be minimized if a relationship is formed with the woman donating. La Leche League suggests these guidelines for mothers who donate milk (however, they do not support milk sharing unless it is through a milk bank):


  • She should be healthy, well-nourished and taking no medication. Ideally, she has an infant about the same age as the one she would be cross nursing.
  • She should be screened for tuberculosis, syphilis, hepatitis-associated antigen, cytomegalovirus, herpes virus, HIV and other infectious agents.
  • She should not smoke, drink alcohol, or consume large amounts of caffeinated or artificially sweetened beverages.
  • Her own infant should be healthy, gaining well and free of all infections. (LLLI, wet nursing)

Being unable to fully supply your baby with your own breastmilk can be extremely frustrating and upsetting for any mother. Solutions to breastfeeding issues can be pieced together and hopefully solved through community, knowledge, and mother-to-mother support.

*Please note, I am not a lactation consultant or a doctor. Just a mom with years of experience nursing my own children, and a great interest in breastfeeding.


For further information:

Human milk banking and other donor milk – Kellymom

Using a Lactation Aid by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC


Sources:

http://www.kellymom.com/bf/supply/adoptivebf.html#supplementer

http://www.kellymom.com/bf/pumping/alternative-feeding.html

http://www.kellymom.com/bf/weaning/weaning-partial.html

http://www.llli.org/llleaderweb/LV/LVJulAug95p53.html

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