Part 1 of 2 – The Donor
Mother’s Milk that is! When I became pregnant I knew that I wanted to have a home birth and that I would breastfeed. Actually I knew that I would do a home birth before I became pregnant. I even had my midwife picked out. At the time I didn’t know anyone who had a homebirth or that had breastfed. I didn’t do research around scientific benefits. I just knew I hated hospitals, didn’t want any drugs, and wanted my baby to be born in the comfort of home, not a sterile environment. For me it just seemed like the natural thing to do. Of course nothing went the way I had planned. Little did I know at the time that breastfeeding would transform my life.
At 32 weeks I ended up in the hospital. I woke up during the middle of the night with sharp pains in my abdomen. I immediately called our midwife. She calmly instructed us to meet her at our hospital, which was about 10-15 minutes from our house. When we arrived, the maternal triage unit was waiting for us. Our baby was showing signs of distress, so an emergency cesarean was performed. Unfortunately our daughter didn’t survive. She was stillborn and they were unable to revive her. I was in shock and in a lot of pain. Our devoted midwife was there with us during the whole ordeal. While I was in the recovery room she whispered two things to me. Something about being able to have a natural birth in the future and something about pumping and donating milk. I didn’t fully understand the importance of her words in that moment, but I knew she was trying to reassure me.
Many people were in and out of my hospital room that day. One of them was a well meaning grief counselor. She warned me about the emotional pain of having my milk come in and wanted me to know what my options were to dry it up. Dry it up?! That seemed so unnatural to me! That got me thinking about what our midwife said. I could donate my milk! The process of expressing milk would help my body to physically heal by returning my uterus to its normal size. In turn I could help another mother in need of milk. I had learned about a baby’s mother who was dying of cancer after giving birth. It made me realize that someone had a worse night than me.
Boy did people think I was crazy! Looking at the reactions of the various staff in my room you would have thought I was from another planet! Why on earth would a grieving mother want to put herself through this? Even though there are milk banks set up for this exact purpose, no one seemed to know how I could go about donating. Finally, a kind nurse had a lactation consultant come to my room. She showed me how to pump and set me up with the various milk bank information. I wanted my milk to remain in the community at little to no cost to families in need. So I donated to the Mothers’ Milk Project of Madison. Donors and recipients are local. Milk is not pasteurized, which retains optimal nutrients and keeps the cost very low. Our midwife made a post partum home visit, drew my blood for screening, and instructed me on safe donation practices.
In the early days of my recovery, pumping gave us a purpose. I say us because my husband was just as involved as I was. Since I was recovering from a cesarean my strength and mobility were limited. In the beginning my husband had to help me a lot. He would wake me up, bring the pump to me, and wash and sterilize the necessary components. It gave both of us something to do and something positive to focus on. We were both grieving the death of our daughter, but it filled our hearts with joy to know that something good came from her death.
There was a baby in the Stoughton area that was born around the same time as our daughter. Although healthy, she was losing weight. Despite her mother’s best efforts she was unable to produce enough milk. That mom was able to supplement with my donated milk. I never met this woman, I don’t know her name, but every time I pumped I smiled a little more. I smiled because my daughter’s milk was helping to nourish and sustain another little girl. The process of allowing my body the natural course of lactation did much more than help me physically recover. It helped emotional wounds heal – for me and for my husband.
The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented. I’ll highlight a few here.
- Breastfeeding lowers a baby’s risk of infections, diarrhea, SIDS, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and childhood leukemia and lowers the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers and diabetes.1
- Mothers’ Milk jumpstarts a baby’s immune system. 2
- Breastfeeding helps babies regulate their breathing. 3
- Breastfeeding moms sleep more! 4
There is an even happier ending to this story that I’ll share with you next month! In the meantime check out the links below to learn more about the nutrition and health benefits for both baby and mother. If you have excess milk to donate or are in need of mother’s milk for your baby, the resources below are a great place to start.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine
Breastfeeding Coalition of South Central WI
American Academy of Pediatrics – Breastfeeding Initiatives
Human Milk Banking Association of North America
Best for Babes Lesser Known Breastfeeding Facts
World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action
US Breastfeeding Committee – Breastfeeding Saves Millions
- Schwarz, E.B. et al. (2009) Duration of lactation and risk factors for maternal cardiovascular disease. Obstet Gynecol. 113(5):974-982.
- Goldman AS. (2007) The immune system in human milk and the developing infant. Breastfeed Med. 2(4):195-204.
- Ip, S. et al. (2007) Breastfeeding and maternal and infant health outcomes in developed countries. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep). 2007 Apr;(153):1-186.
- Doan, T., Gardiner, A., Gay, C.L., and Lee, K.A. (2007) Breast-feeding increases sleep duration of new parents. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 21(3):200-6.