While donated breast milk has garnered far more attention in recent years than it used to, the concept isn’t a new one. Mothers have been feeding other mothers’ babies for centuries. The Journal of Perinatal Medicine touts the history of wet nursing — the practice of nursing a child that isn’t your own — dating back to as early as 2000 B.C.
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Why You Should Donate Your Breast Milk
Generally, there aren’t many reasons someone donates breast milk. Regardless of their circumstances, they typically have more milk than they need. Rather than drying up their supply or tossing it down the drain, they donate it to other babies whose mothers don’t have enough milk. On the flipside, there are several reasons why someone may need donated breast milk. Around 2 percent of new mothers are unable to breastfeed, per Parenting Magazine, though a much larger percentage are lead to believe they can’t in America.
Still, others have different reasons for why they aren’t lactating. For example, some women become mothers the day they adopt their child. Adoption doesn’t automatically mean a baby must be formula fed; many adoptive parents rely on donated breast milk for their children.
Why You Should Accept Donated Breast Milk
Many women struggle with the idea of giving their precious little one the milk of another mother. They worry about the donating mother’s diet and lifestyle habits, and many battle internal feelings of guilt that they can’t produce the milk themselves. The important thing to remember is that the quality of breast milk far outweighs synthetic alternatives, even if it isn’t your own breast milk. The benefits of breastfeeding include:
1. Children who are breastfed are less likely to incur illnesses such as the flu, pneumonia and respiratory infections.
2. Digestive upset and delayed development of the gut are less common in breastfed babies.
3. Breastfed children routinely score higher on IQ tests.
4. Rates for ear infections are much lower in breastfed babies.
5. Vision is better in breastfed babies.
6. Infections and stress to the renal system are less in breastfed children since breast milk is easier on their organs.
7. CNN reports children who were breastfed in one study earned 20 percent higher incomes as adults.
Assuring the Breast Milk Quality
Mothers who donate breast milk typically understand the fears that those looking for their help face. They want to know they can trust the source they’re getting the milk from. That can be difficult when it’s a stranger. Some third party organizations that oversee the donation and recipient process may allow for drug and alcohol testing to be done on the milk, as well as screening the donating mother for transmittable diseases, but the cost of all of this is usually incurred by the recipient. Though the safety and well-being of your child is priceless, it’s something to keep in mind.
It is a common practice to ask moms who donate breast milk tons of questions. Don’t feel like you’re bothering them; they’re used to it. These are some good questions to ask:
1. What foods are included in your diet?
2. Are you open to changing your diet should my child develop allergies?
3. Do you drink alcohol? How much and how often?
4. Does your own child consume your breast milk?
5. Have you donated before?
5. Do you smoke or use any recreational or prescription drugs?
Should You Pay for Milk?
Whether or not someone charges for their milk supply isn’t automatically indicative of what you’re getting by buying it. Just because they want to make a profit off of their milk doesn’t mean it’s a scam of some kind. It takes a lot of work to commit to pumping, especially if they’re doing it while also nursing or pumping for their own child. Assume that a mom is pumping an average of six times a day, with a minimum of 20 minutes spent on each pumping session. That’s two hours a day — 10 hours a week — minimum that they’re pumping to help you feed your baby.
Aside from time constraints, some mothers will find their milk supply wanes if they do away with pumping in the middle of the night. So they have to pump in the wee hours of the morning to keep production up. That’s sleep lost every single night. There are no days off from pumping breast milk. These are all factors to keep in mind when deciding whether it’s worth paying for breast milk. You might want to ask yourself if it’s something you would want to do for free or not before deciding what you expect from someone else. Fees for milk are usually charged by the ounce, but bulk amounts may be a flat rate. If there is traveling or shipment involved to deliver the milk, fees may be added on for that, too.
Web-Based Breast Milk
Thanks to modern-day technology, there are several resources for networking with other mothers and finding donation sources local to you. Facebook groups like Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies are quite popular. Since there are no third party organizations overseeing the process, there are strict rules enforced about how to go about meeting with other mothers and picking up milk. Initial meets should always be during daylight hours in a public place. Don’t forget to bring a cooler and ice packs! It’s a great idea to bring someone along with you, too, but if you can’t, leave word with someone about where you’re going, who you’re meeting and when you’ll return.
Other Resources about Breast Milk Donation
Don’t shy away from asking friends you know who are breastfeeding if they have any extra milk they don’t need for their children to benefit yours. Some moms have milk sitting around in their freezers that spoils after several months or a year in a deep freeze and it has to be tossed. Inquire at your local La Leche League chapter for resources in your region where you can purchase milk or receive it as a free donation.
There are many reasons that someone may be willing to part with their supply of excess milk. Some just have too much. Some moms lose their babies at birth and still want to do something good afterward and pump to bring on their supply and give it to other babies in memory of their own. Likewise, there’s more than one reason people want donated milk, too. It’s not always a mom that isn’t producing enough; sometimes athletes seek colostrum and breast milk for their high nutritional content, too. If you’re planning to donate, make sure you address whether or not you’re open to donating to this group of individuals, because you are likely to be contacted by them if posting online. Regardless of which end of the donation process you’re on, use caution, but remind yourself you are doing your part in ensuring optimal nutrition for your baby and others.