Milk Sharing Networks – When things just work!

BreastmilkI want to share a story about milk sharing that happened recently.  I apologise if it seems a bit disjointed – I didn’t learn about the whole story chronologically.  I have also made some creative changes to names.

Emma from far North Queensland recently gave birth to her third child, a boy named James.  She was staying with family in the Hunter Valley, NSW, while recovering from the C-Section birth of her son.

James wasn’t gaining weight.  Emma sought help from doctors, but she was left with a routine of feeding and expressing that was unachievable, given she had two young daughters to also care for.  She wasn’t getting a break between feeds/pumps and nor was she expressing enough for the top ups.  So she ended up supplementing with 20ml top ups of formula, given by a syringe.  She understood the risks of nipple confusion and did not want to jeopardise her future breastfeeding relationship.  Emma didn’t expect to experience this problem after successfully breastfeeding her two older children.  She expressed this frustration to an aunt and cousin.  Her cousin suggested Emma try to see Amanda Pauley, a local IBCLC.  Amanda had a very good reputation for helping breastfeeding women, and had saved many breastfeeding relationships with her ability to identify tongue ties.  Emma’s aunt piped up that she was a patient of Amanda’s husband Jon, who was a GP.  Emma’s aunt agreed that Amanda had a very good reputation.  While Emma continued trying to juggle everything, a few days later her aunt called. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve booked an appointment for you to see Amanda”.

Emma went along to the appointment.  Amanda found a tongue tie and had it corrected at the appointment.  She then addressed the top ups.  Baby James was 6 weeks old and still had not reached his birthweight, so top ups would continue to be necessary for the time being, however Emma would be switching from syringe to an SNS. SNS Emma expressed an interest in donated breastmilk, and had a cousin named Lauren who had posted on Facebook about it before.  Amanda knew a Lauren too – Amanda had attended to Lauren’s second daughter when she was a newborn, and Lauren also ran a large breastfeeding support group on Facebook and had previously worked with Amanda through an organisation called BANC (Breastmilk Advocacy for Newborns Collective).  In a town with a population of around 70,000 residents, Amanda knew Emma’s cousin Lauren (that’s me!).

Long story short, Emma was able to swing past my house on the way home from her appointment to collect 400ml of breastmilk that was stashed in my freezer.   In a society where many women are happy to supplement with formula, this feels like a miracle, but it was not complete chance that facilitated this breastmilk transaction.

  • Some professionals are informed enough to educate parents on the subject of comparative risks between formula and unpasteurised breastmilk. In this case, Amanda helped reduce the level of risk by offering to refer the donor for a variety of blood tests
  • People are sharing information about milk sharing on social media, and other people are taking notice
  • Milk sharing happens frequently around in Australia, and I am blessed to be a part of a very active milk sharing network in the Hunter/Newcastle area. If I did not have 400ml of breastmilk available to share with Emma in my freezer, it would not have been a huge feat for me to source it for her from another donor.

While I am chuffed to be involved in this particular incident of milk sharing, I can’t take credit for the ease in which it happened.  Higher powers were at work!  Sharing information about milk sharing, being vocal about participating in it and demanding our professionals are up to date with their information are making massive inroads into normalising breastfeeding, and with it, milk sharing.  Emma may not have been as open to the concept of donor milk if the term and concept were completely foreign to her.  She may not even have considered seeing an IBCLC so far away from home had it not been facilitated by two other relatives.  Thanks to this chain of events, I get to look forward to seeing James thrive, now that his medical issues have been addressed, and I feel some personal satisfaction that I have, in a very small way, helped contribute to his growth.

The current generation of mums are starting to appreciate the importance of breastmilk and want better solutions to their breastfeeding problems then to simply offer a bottle of formula instead.  Reading an article here and sharing something there may not feel like it’s going to make a big difference, but all of these small things are contributing to a big mind-shift in the way we feed our babies.  Thank you for being a part of this change!


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