Earlier this month, through a new group on Facebook, milk sharing went viral, global, and hyper-local all at once, Time.com recently reported. A Montreal-based mom of three and breastfeeding activist, Emma Kwasnica, had been running a virtual milk sharing network through her personal Facebook page, connecting families in need of breast milk with donors around the world through her 2000+ Facebook friends. Eager to expand her efforts and help more babies and “do something tangible, take it into the real world,” Kwasnica borrowed the name Eats on Feets (a play on Meals on Wheels) from Shell Walker, an Arizona-based midwife, who had launched a local milk sharing effort with that name earlier this year. After just a few short weeks, through the help of a network of breastfeeding activists, 105 Eats on Feets chapters in 26 countries were up and running.
Kwasnica said that the Eats on Feets milk sharing network is “about women taking their own autonomy and power for themselves [by allowing women to do what they want with their milk]…. We’re filling a niche that the milk banks will never be able to.”
For moms who either can’t breastfeed or have a low milk supply, there are few options beyond supplementing with or switching to formula. Access to milk banks is expensive, and since a prescription is required, is usually limited to preemies or babies with medical needs (leaving adopted babies and those whose moms have supply issues in the lurch). Additionally, because of the costs of screening performed by milk banks, moms must make a minimum donation of 100-200 ounces – a prohibitively high amount for many moms who may have just a few extra bags of breast milk in the freezer that they’d like to pass along, but nowhere near enough for a milk bank.
Through Eats on Feets, moms of babies in need of breast milk for any reason can make connections with moms who have stored milk to donate (even just a few ounces) or who are willing to act as a wet nurse or pump for another woman’s baby. The group does not screen donors, but encourages moms to make informed decisions and “take complete responsibility for the outcome of milk sharing.” Should families want to screen donors, Eats on Feets provides a list of typical blood tests as well as suggested questions to ask and offers information about everything from alcohol and tobacco use as it relates to breast milk to the potential for transmission of STDs, HIV, and hepatitis into breast milk. The group also provides information about how to flash-pasteurize milk on the stovetop to kill bacteria and HIV.
Obviously, milk sharing is not a new phenomenon by any means, given the historic popularity of wet nurses, and the existence of sites like MilkShare.com that have served for years as a point of connection for families interested in milk donation. And, our own Parenting Post blogger, Taylor Newman, recently wrote about receiving donated milk for her son Kaspar from a friend who offered to pump for him. But the explosive grassroots growth on Facebook seems to have taken milk sharing to a whole new level – allowing moms to easily pass along extra milk to babies in their own communities or across the globe instead of dumping it down the drain.
Kwasnica (who, ironically, has had her Facebook page deleted four times due to breastfeeding photos she had posted that were deemed obscene) said that she wants to dispel the “myth that breast milk is scarce – in fact, it’s a free-flowing resource!” One of her goals in taking Eats on Feets global was to allow women to avoid giving their babies formula, if they didn’t want to feed it to them. “All I want is to help healthy moms and healthy babies; this is a dream come true.”
Moms, would you request donor milk for your baby instead of using formula? Would you donate milk to babies in your community if you had extra?