Happy World Milksharing Week!

World Milksharing Week   –   September 24 – 30, 2013

September 24 – 30, 2013 is World Milksharing Week (http://worldmilksharing.net/; https://www.facebook.com/WMWeek ), a time to celebrate breastmilk sharing and to promote human milk as the biologically normal nourishment for babies and children. Many people have not heard of breastmilk sharing, but that is beginning to change thanks so several online milksharing sites, like Human Milk 4 Human Babies. This week’s blog post features guest author, Rebecca McCloskey, LCSW, Specialist Professor of Social Work at Monmouth University, chapter leader for New Jersey BirthNetwork, and volunteer administrator for Human Milk 4 Human Babies – New Jersey. 

For all of her life, Amanda Munice dreamed of having a baby and becoming a mother.  She was exclusively breastfed for over two years, and she envisioned nursing her own baby one day.  In November of 2012, her dreams came true when she gave birth to a daughter, Mariella.  Mariella successfully latched on to her mother’s breast within the first hour of her life and continued to nurse exclusively throughout her first three weeks.  Unfortunately, Amanda soon discovered that something was wrong.  Mariella was not gaining weight.  After a hospitalization and many tests for Mom and baby, Amanda was diagnosed with Insufficient Glandular Tissue.  She was devastated as a physician explained that her body would not make enough milk for Mariella to be exclusively breastfed.  Amanda said, “I broke down and cried.  The dream of nursing my baby for at least her first year of life was one that I was going to have to mourn.”

Sheila Dvorak Galione, too, was sure she would breastfeed her baby.  Sadly, she faced many obstacles in doing so.  Sheila and her newborn daughter, Lita, were both diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Myasthenia Gravis.  This caused a very weak suck and Lita could not nurse, nor could she drink from a bottle.  Initially, she had to be fed via feeding tube.  Sheila did her best to pump her breastmilk, but was unsuccessful in producing more than a few drops.  She later also tried a supplemental nursing system to stimulate her milk supply.  Shortly thereafter, she was also told she had Insufficient Glandular Tissue. She says, “I felt like I failed…I felt like I was supposed to be so happy that I had this new baby in my life. Instead, I was an emotional wreck who would burst into tears when I thought about never being able to breastfeed my own baby, something I had been imagining ever since I was a little girl watching my step-mom breastfeed my little sisters.” To make matters worse, Lita had a very difficult time digesting formula and often vomited and was sick for quite some time after she was fed.

Amanda and Sheila have had to mourn the very significant loss of breastfeeding in their lives, and feeding their infant daughters has turned into an experience they had never hoped for or even imagined.  Fortunately, Human Milk 4 Human Babies has helped both moms provide human milk for their daughters, and by sharing their stories they hope to help increase awareness of this community so that others know that donor breastmilk is an option for their families too.

Did you know that experts (World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, UNICEF, and others) recommend breastfeeding for at least two years, with exclusive breastfeeding (no cereal, juice, or other foods) until six months of age?  And, if for some reason a mother’s own breastmilk isn’t available, the World Health Organization says the next best option is another healthy woman’s breastmilk, not formula.  This is an area where women are coming together for the benefit of their children, families, and the public health of the community.

“My amazing and progressive pediatrician told me about Human Milk for Human Babies.  As soon as I heard about milksharing, I knew that this was going to be the answer for us.”  Sheila quickly connected with a local woman offering her extra breastmilk.  The woman shared her blood work results, which helped Sheila feel assured that the donor was healthy and the milk was safe for the baby.

“Within two weeks, I had a freezer full of milk, and my daughter had started to refuse her formula. She liked the breastmilk a lot better! She stopped refluxing and spitting up, and we could start putting her to sleep without holding her upright.  So many moms came forward with donations that I had to buy a freezer so we could store it all. One mom with a consistent oversupply has donated to our family many times. The last time I picked up at her house, our babies played together. Other moms, I’ve only met for a few minutes, but I love them so much for their generous spirits and willingness to give something so precious to someone they hardly know. Even if they donate just because they don’t have any more room in their freezer, I want to thank them!”

World Milksharing Week is the last week in September and was first established two years ago by the grassroots community called Human Milk 4 Human Babies Global Network.  Human Milk 4 Human Babies (HM4HB), http://www.hm4hb.net/, is a global community that provides a space where families in need can connect with women who have an excess of breastmilk to share.  HM4HB affirms that human milk is the biological norm for infants and children and exists to promote the nourishment of babies and children with human milk.

In addition to breastfeeding and milksharing being a matter of human rights and personal choice, it is a public health issue.  Numerous studies have documented the risks of not breastfeeding to both mother and baby.  For example, formula-fed infants and toddlers have higher rates of cancer, obesity, diarrhea, IBD, ear infections, respiratory infections, allergies, asthma, and reflux (among other things).  Tragically, our society does not provide enough support to mothers and their efforts and desire to breastfeed.  This needs to change; in the meanwhile, HM4HB provides another option for families.

HM4HB does not support the selling of breastmilk, but provides an online space for families to connect and share milk in the spirit of self-empowerment, informed choice, community building, and mutual support.  At last, a story illustrating solidarity and the power and empowerment of mothers!

Sheila explains what receiving donor milk has done for her.  “I could give up all of the feelings of inadequacy and stop mourning that I couldn’t breastfeed her myself. I seriously feel like I have been blessed. I get the peace of mind that comes with knowing that she is getting the absolute best nutrition possible, the food that nature intended her to have. I would never have been able to provide the happy healthy first seven months of her life without the amazing women who have shared their milk with us.”

Sheila was motivated to tell her story because she believes many woman experience trouble breastfeeding their children.  “It seems to me that the more people that know about donating and sharing breastmilk, the easier it will be for a new mom who finds herself unable to breastfeed, but doesn’t want to resort to formula. Yes, there is another way, and it’s a wonderful and doable option. I have had to explain my choice to many people in my family over the last few months, who at first feel like it’s weird for my baby to drink someone else’s milk. But, each and every time I tell them to imagine that they were in my shoes, that they couldn’t breastfeed, and there are healthy and loving women out there who want to share their milk. Why shouldn’t I accept their donations if it means the best food for my baby?”

Mariella is now nine months old and she enjoys a diet of about half breastmilk and half formula, with some solid food mixed in now.  Amanda says, “It is amazing to me that this healthy little girl of mine has received immune support properties from not just me, but a total of four moms!  I think that’s awesome!  Our current donor and her baby have even become good friends of ours!”

“While I still get a little sad about not being able to successfully nurse Mariella beyond her first seven weeks,” Amanda says, “I am so grateful for the generosity of our ‘milk mamas’ and for the fact that my daughter has been able to continue receiving the benefits of breastmilk, even after my body was no longer able to provide it for her. I’m grateful for the Human Milk for Human Babies – NJ group that made this connection possible for us.  Before we had this need, I had never heard of milksharing before.  I hope that by telling our story, more people will become aware of this wonderful community of moms helping other moms.”

HM4HB has a presence in 52 countries around the world and is represented by community Facebook pages for each state/province/country.  The HM4HB New Jersey page, http://www.facebook.com/hm4hbnj, has been in existence since February 28, 2011 and its community has steadily grown.  The page is run by two volunteers: Eldris Hobal and Rebecca McCloskey, who welcome your questions.  They want people to know that peer-to-peer milk sharing is an option for families making informed choices about their children’s health and nutrition.  Please come visit the page, read the mission, values, and FAQs, and learn more about HM4HB!

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