“Formula for babies has become such a pervasive part of our culture that many people assume it must be as good for babies as human milk. After all, formula is designed to contain many of the nutrients provided in breastmilk--and babies who are fed formula clearly grow and develop adequately. Yet the fact remains that human milk and infant formula differ in a number of fundamental ways. Breastmilk is such a rich, nourishing mixture that scientists have yet to identify all of its elements; no formula manufacturer has managed or will ever be able to fully replicate it.” American Academy of Pediatrics
Addendum: Before I get started with today’s post, I want to add something to my post last week regarding breastfeeding. My intention was not to judge working mothers or make working mothers feel badly. I, of all people, understand how difficult it is to work and continue breastfeeding. I am extremely blessed to have a job that allows me time to pump and to return home for lunch- giving me an extra opportunity to breastfeed during the day. So far, my supply has not diminished and I am able to actually bank much of what I pump (see new post below). However, not all women are as lucky. I do understand that some women find it impossible to keep up their supply when pumping during the day. My intention was not to criticize those women- in fact, I commend you for doing your best to provide the best possible food for your baby. I do want to point out that even if you aren’t able to provide enough breast milk to breastfeed exclusively, you can still breastfeed when able (sort of like supplementing formula with breast milk). This way, if your baby has to take formula during the day, he/she can still get the benefits of breastfeeding, even if he/she is only able to get an ounce or two of milk. Even an ounce of breast milk can make a difference. From women I’ve talked to (my mother, who nursed 7 children, included), your body will adjust, and nursing only once or twice a day is possible.
To summarize: my real beef is with women who don’t breastfeed at all because they intend to go back to work (and somehow think starting a baby on formula from the beginning is better than starting on breast milk and switching later, if necessary), mothers that don’t even give pumping a try, or those who switch to formula for their own selfish reasons (and yes, I am counting the “I’m tired” and “If I use formula my husband can help me” excuses).
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So from my last post you can probably tell that I take breastfeeding very, very seriously. When I returned to work, I did so with the intention to breastfeed until Lucy was at least 1 year old. In an ideal world (i.e. I could stay at home) I would nurse Lucy until she self-weaned. Anyways, achieving this goal requires me to pump at work twice each day- once in the morning, once in the afternoon. I had figured that this would provide me with roughly 12 ounces of breastmilk per day- more than enough for the two feedings I would miss. Lucy, however, threw me for a loop when she decided to drop her feedings while I am at work and sleep instead, preferring to breastfeed when I’m at home. Thus, she nurses at 7 am as I get ready to walk out the door, 11:30-ish at my lunch break, and 4:30-ish when I get home for work. According to my lactation consultant and a friendly LLL expert, this is fine. Lucy is gaining weight normally, and makes up for it at night, when she is pretty much attached to me from the time I get home until we go to sleep. She also nurses at least once at night, usually twice.
The point is, I was ending up with tons of pumped milk. I began pumping into Medela freeze-and-pump bags and freezing it. My stash began to grow and grow. But a problem arose: breast milk only stays good in a freezer like ours for roughly 3 months. I began to get concerned about the milk expiring. Then I heard about breast milk banking.
According to the World Health Organization/UNICEF:
"Where it is not possible for the biological mother to breastfeed, the first alternative, if available, should be the use of human breast milk from other sources. Human milk banks should be made available in appropriate situations."
There are currently 9 breast milk banks in the United States. They provide milk to babies who need it- mainly babies in the NICU who especially need the benefits breast milk provides. Insurance helps families pay for the milk, which can cost up to $8/ounce, mainly because it costs so much to process. Donors must be tested, and the milk must be shipped same-day, pasteurized, stored, and distributed.
I have signed up to donate milk, and I urge other mamas to do the same. There are three basic steps for donation:
1. Preliminary Screening/Interview: Once you have 200 ounces available for donation (assuming you’re having it shipped- you can give 150 ounces if you’re actually going to the bank), you are eligible to be interviewed.
2. Completing the Donor Packet: Your OB and pediatrician must certify that you and your baby are in good health.
3. Lab Work: You’ll have to go and have a blood draw you ensure you are disease-free.
4. Donation: You’ll be sent a cooler with a pre-paid label. You’ll pack the cooler and ship it back.
Another option is to donate to the International Breast Milk Project. This group sends breast milk all over the world- from AIDS orphans in Africa to countries suffering from national disasters. Some of the donated milk is also used to make the only human-milk-only fortifier available. They are currently not taking donors, but I’ve signed up for the waiting list, which is available from their web site. Some interesting facts about IBMP:
- Over 1250 moms from across the US have donated milk to IBMP
- Average donor sends around 200-300 ounces- Largest donor sent nearly 7000 ounces (54 gallons!)
- By the end of 2009, IBMP will have provided over 262,679 ounces of donor milk to infants suffering from malnourishment, poverty and disease in Africa.
- 262,679 ounces = enough milk to feed 2,188 babies 1 bottle a day for 30 days
Why let your extra breast milk go to waste? Share it with a baby who desperately needs it. And even if you can’t donate, you can get involved. Join the IBMP facebook group, hold a milk drive, donate funds, or just talk about it with friends. The more people know about milk banks, the more babies will thrive.