I’d like to talk about milk donation. Milk mamas have always been among us. Whether hired by wealthy families as wet nurses or employed by hospitals, women with extra milk have shared with babies not their own.
Thomas Phaire addressed the hiring of wet nurses in his 1545 text, The boke of chyldren advised that the wet nurse should have given birth no longer than two months previously, be of good character, have a pleasant disposition, and not be a drunkard. Phaire also advised that her milk not taste salty.
I remember a reference in the book Fresh Milk to a French law in the 1700’s stating that wet nurses could not take on more than seven (!!!) clients at a time. How much milk can one woman make?
Today, the profession of wet nurse is gone. Yet women continue to share human milk. Milk banks offer a convenient way to donate extra milk. They handle all the supplies, testing, shipping costs. Some even provide a breast pump. For recipients, it is expensive to purchase. Donated milk costs around 4.00/oz. Priority, of course, is given to premature infants in hospitals so sometimes there is a waiting list. And human milk is a hot commodity. Some cancer patients and elderly people unable to digest foods also use human milk.
I could not even come close to being able to afford 4.00/oz for Cedar’s milk. Some days, she takes 20 oz of donated milk to supplement my supply. We have chosen to receive milk from women we know personally and two donors from Milkshare. Cedar is 8 months old and my freezer still has milk. I never thought that could happen!
Milkshare is a peer-to-peer forum that matches women with extra milk with babies who need milk. It is entirely volunteer and screening is only done if both parties mutually agree.
Our current donor with Milkshare is so fantastic! When we meet up for milk, we bring our babies (her baby is a month younger) and have lunch. It is like the usual playdate except I leave with four coolers of milk! I asked her if she ever imagined donating milk and she said it never crossed her mind. She is a first time mama who thought she didn’t have enough milk so she began pumping. She unintentionally signalled her body to make enough milk for twins. Rather than tweaking her supply, she chose to donate the extra. What a gift!
Two funny stories: My dad thought the donated milk came in gallon jugs like cow milk. And my brother-in-law saw the bags of milk in the freezer and thought they were some sort of popsicle.
Among Cedar’s many milk mamas: several stay-at-home mamas, an engineer, a researcher, a lawyer, women from three different states, and a dairy/gluten-free mama. I think about all the antibodies passed to my baby through the milk of this diverse group. Yes, there is some risk but I felt there was more risk in not providing human milk to her. Most women have screenings during their pregnancies and we felt comfortable with these ladies. Cedar has been so healthy; even through a swine-flu sickly winter. I feel I owe these women not only for Cedar’s food but also for her health.
I often run into new mamas who would take donated milk in a heartbeat.
Each time I open a bag of milk, I say a prayer of thanks for the mama who provided it.