Would You Feed Another Woman’s Breast Milk to Your Baby? (I am!)

by Taylor Newman

Would You Feed Another Woman’s Breast Milk to Your Baby? (I am!)

I'd caught wind of the heated breast milk debate/divide (who could miss it?) before becoming pregnant; I knew about the benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk, and also about the countless healthy, happy formula-fed babies out there in the world, enjoying life. I was formula fed myself, and haven’t suffered from any IQ or immune system deficits, so while I appreciated from the get-go all that breastfeeding has to offer, I didn’t get swept up in the politics of it. I felt in the beginning of pregnancy, in that early stage of constant nausea and soul-crushing fatigue, that nine months was a long time for one’s body to host another being, and thus found myself leaning toward formula feeding in the interest of regaining a level of physical autonomy as soon as possible. Once into the second trimester, however, bumping along nicely and adjusted to the idea that my autonomy—physical or otherwise—was long gone (forever), and feeling okay about that, I decided I’d give breastfeeding a whirl. We got Kaspar right on the boob once he was born, and he went right for it. We were on a roll.

I didn’t breast feed exclusively. My supply wasn’t sufficient for that, despite doing serious time on the pump to keep things flowing. We figured out our rhythm and cut a 50/50 formula/mom-milk deal for Kaspar’s first three months of life. I really loved our evening feeding. Aaron and I would climb into bed with Kaspar, read or watch a movie quietly, and Kaspar would nurse himself to sleep. It was cozy. I’d be back at the pump a few hours later, though, to keep the milk on tap, and then feeding again soon after that; it was exhausting, but worth it. I’ve heard women talk about the sheer joy of breastfeeding. I never really felt that. I actually felt kind of chained to the couch while nursing, and chained to the kitchen table—without even the free use of my hands—while pumping. But again, it was a labor of love, and I rocked it.

Once my maternity leave ended, however, I just couldn’t hack it. I pumped in the closet-sized phone-booth room (many times having to wait for someone to get off the phone before I could do my thing) that was reserved for an entire four companies’ worth of employees to use for the purpose (well, for two purposes… phone calls and breast-pumping) —appreciating meanwhile that the room existed at all—for a total of two weeks after returning to work, and then threw in the towel. I just knew, one night while pumping, that I was done, and it was a relief. I felt like three months was a respectable stretch, and that I was glad Kaspar’d gotten started on the liquid gold, but that organic formula was a beautiful thing. And that was that (do note, readers, that quitting breastfeeding cold turkey is a very bad idea… for your boobs, I mean… youch). I firmly decided that I wouldn’t look back, and wouldn’t take on any guilt about feeding Kaspar formula. He’s seven months old now, super healthy. All systems go.

There’s been an interesting little twist of events in our story, recently. I have a standing weekly play date with a good mama-friend and her eighteen-month-old son. We’re the same age, embrace the same general parenting style, have similar senses of humor— you get the idea (a good friend). She’s breast fed her son exclusively, though, is still nursing, and offered to pump for Kaspar. I was floored. Pumping was a serious drag for me. I’d sit with that thing for forty-five minutes and get three ounces if I was lucky, but my friend here can pump that same amount in five minutes flat. Still, I was stunned by the offer. “You’d pump for him?” I asked in disbelief, to which she confirmed “I’d be happy to.”

So, Kaspar’s getting breast milk and formula again, and to be honest it makes me feel good—really good—to know he’s benefiting from all of the healthy stuff breast milk has to offer (especially because he has eczema, and I suspect the breast milk gives his system a little extra skin-balancing boost). The ratio’s not 50/50 (Kaspar eats a lot), but that doesn’t matter to me. Austin’s a super pro-breastfeeding town (it’s done collectively in public places to drive the point home), and there’s a milk bank here, but it costs hundreds of dollars a week to get milk from the bank, and that’s just not in the cards for us right now. I’m feeling lucky for our inside supply.

This same friend told me, too, about Milk Share. She knows of one family that adopted their daughter from India, and, thanks to the generosity of milk-solvent mamas, has never given their baby formula—it’s been all breast milk, all the way, for them. The milk share is not a milk bank— it’s like a list serve for parents to contact each other, and arrange for their own sharing situation. Screening is not included. I’ve registered on the share but not yet posted; I’m somewhat on the fence about whether to do so. On the one hand, I feel lucky to have the breast milk we have from a good friend who I know , and am a little wary of the off-chance that another donating mama might have some weird disease or whatever (highly unlikely, but still). On the other hand, I could certainly request milk only from moms who also donate to the bank (where they undergo stringent screening),  and potentially get Kaspar’s breast milk-to-formula ratio way up, or even get him drinking breast milk exclusively through the next few months.

I think I’m going to stick with our current situation: feeding Kaspar formula, some of our friend’s milk, and solids (which he’s started, and enjoys). But I’m curious— what would you do? Go for it? Does the idea of sharing breast milk gross you out, or do you think it’s the best idea ever? Have you donated your milk, used a share, or something similar to this? Looking forward to your thoughts.