Milk Siblings: One Mama’s Milk Sharing Story (and Resources)

August 5th, 2013 by Dionna | 1 Comment
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Carnival and Special Series, Compassionate Advocacy, Feed with Love and Respect, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting

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World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center

Welcome to the World Breastfeeding 2013 Blog Carnival cohosted by and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center!

This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.


I am so happy to share a guest post from my friend, Amber, today. Please read to the bottom for more information about Amber.

Milk Siblings

Pumping Breastmilk in the NICU

“Am I allowed to touch her?”

As a mom planning a homebirth for her third child, I never imagined those words could come out of my mouth. Yet here we were, in the NICU, six weeks before her due date.

Everything I knew about mothering an infant revolved around breastfeeding and skin to skin contact, yet all I could do was gently touch her back on occasion and watch her tiny body struggle to breathe and grow.

On day 2, the staff told me they were going to place an NG (nasogastric tube). They began to feed my baby the colostrum I had been dutifully pumping every 3 hours. The nurse who took my colostrum to the NICU marveled at the amount I’d produced and said she wished she could have done the same for her daughter.

That pride turned to worry when, on day 3, they asked for more milk than I had stored. Fortunately, we’d chosen a hospital system known for their strong breastfeeding advocacy and milk bank. All it took was a consent form, then the nurse thawed a small vial of donor milk to add to my daughter’s tube feeding.

My daughter needed just a few milliliters of donor milk, because my mature milk was coming in that day and I became the overproducer that I’d been with my previous two children. That wasn’t the case with all the NICU families.

As my containers in the fridge began to overflow, I couldn’t help seeing how little was in the other mothers’, and the tears and frustration of the mothers struggling to make enough milk for their children’s nutritional needs. One mom, bent over in pain from her unplanned c-section, sobbed as she told the nurse practitioner about how she felt awful every time her baby latched. The nurse described D-MER (dysphoric milk ejection reflex) to her and gave her some strategies to ease it. It seemed such a shame that I couldn’t share my daughter’s milk with the other preemies, but I’m sure the mention of it would have horrified the staff (and some of the parents).

Milk Siblings: One Mama’s Milk Sharing Story

Human Breastmilk Banking: Are the Stringent Regulations Really Necessary?

Surprisingly, my earliest and smallest baby was my best breastfeeder, and we were able to leave the NICU in 15 days with two giant bags of frozen milk. I was encouraged to call the hospital’s milk bank to see if they would accept it as a donation. Milk made by mothers of preterm babies has a different composition from term milk and is very sought after for the smallest preemies or sick infants.

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) has stringent requirements for their donors. The milk is pooled and pasteurized when they process it, but each donor must be considered separately. Blood work (provided at the milk bank’s expense) and a detailed health history are taken to ensure the donor is free from communicable diseases. All but a few medications are prohibited, so one of my prescriptions ruled me out as a donor.

I understand the need to be extra cautious about medication when we’re talking about the most fragile infants, but what about healthy, term babies? From my professional background as a chemist, I know that many medications are considered safe while breastfeeding.

Informal milk sharing is a hot topic these days, especially among breastfeeding advocacy groups. Almost uniformly, groups such as La Leche League International are against person to person milk sharing because of the risk of disease transmission. Despite that, websites have sprung up that connect those with milk to donate to those who are in need of it. Critics say that the donors could be misrepresenting themselves and their health history. Some women also seek to sell their milk, perhaps by depriving their own child of it.

From a public health standpoint, I get why caution is warranted. Even so, I couldn’t bear to thaw and dump the milk sitting in my freezer. As a part of an online parenting community, I’d gotten to know many people over the last few years that value breastmilk as I do. Some of those mothers had experienced supply problems and had accepted donor milk from friends in the past. I decided to contact one family that I thought might be interested. I mentioned the medication I was taking and left it to them to do some research and decide if they would like my milk.

pumping mom

Happily, they did, and my milk made its way to them through a mutual friend. If my daughter could have handled the oversupply that results from pumping, I would have continued supplying them or others. It warms my heart to think of that other child having my milk. Islam has a term for children who have had milk from the same woman, “milk siblings.” The children are considered family members even if they have no blood relation, and are prohibited from marrying.

How could society create a network of milk sharing, while taking the risks in to consideration? Banked milk is prohibitively expensive, and as a result, rarely available outside the NICU. A neonatologist I heard speak about milk sharing asked the audience if we would dare accept blood products from others who hadn’t been screened. My thought at the time was that I would do so from a sister or close friend, but I didn’t feel comfortable voicing my opinion.

The question we have to address is whether the risk of disease transmission outweighs the risks of formula feeding. The former is likely a very small risk with a known donor, but the consequences could be devastating. The latter has been demonstrated in hundreds of peer reviewed research studies. As with all feeding decisions, the risks and benefits should be laid out for each family to decide. The dilemma arises when the family chooses breastmilk, but it can’t come from mom.

Perhaps getting over our cultural taboos would permit us to look to our trusted friends and family members for another source. I dream of world where milk siblings abound.

Milk Sharing Resources

Human Milk Banking Association of North America

Eats on Feets

Human Milk 4 Human Babies

Human Milk Banking and Other Donor Milk on Kellymom

Risks of Informal Breastmilk Sharing versus Formula Feeding on PhD in Parenting

Drugs and Lactation Database


Amber Young is a pharmaceutical chemist turned full time mom of three girls. Her dream job would be a physician educator and consultant on the topic of breastfeeding and medication. She has a combined total of 73 months (and counting!) of breastfeeding experience.

Photo Credits (baby and nursing mom): Author
Photo Credit (pump): A Little Bit of All of It


World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center Visit and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center for more breastfeeding resources and WBW Carnival details!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:

(This list will be updated by afternoon August 5 with all the carnival links.)

  • An Unexpected Formula-Fed Attachment — Kyle (of JEDI Momster and) writing at Natural Parents Network, exclusively breastfed three healthy babies. So when she was pregnant with her fourth, she assumed she would have no breastfeeding troubles she could not overcome. Turns out, her fourth baby had his own ideas. Kyle shares her heartfelt thoughts on how she came to terms with the conclusion of her breastfeeding journey.
  • It Take a Village: Cross Nursing — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares how cross-nursing helped her baby in their time of need, and how that experience inspired her to create a community of cross-nursing and milk-sharing women.
  • Random little influences and Large scale support communities lead to knowing better and doing better — amy at random mom shares how her ideas and successes involved with breastfeeding evolved with each of her children, how her first milk sharing experience completely floored her, and how small personal experiences combined with huge communities of online support were responsible for leading and educating her from point A to point D, and hopefully beyond.
  • Mikko’s weaning story — After five years of breastfeeding, Lauren at Hobo Mama shares how the nursing relationship with her firstborn came to a gentle end.
  • My Milk is Your Milk — Lola at What the Beep am I Doing? discusses her use of donor milk and hhow she paid the gift back to other families.
  • World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Celebrating Each Mother’s Journey — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy lists her experiences and journey as a breastfeeding mother.
  • Working Mom Nursing Twins — Sadia at How Do You Do It? breastfed her twin daughters for 7 months. They made it through premature birth and NICU stays, her return to full-time work, her husband’s deployment to Iraq, and Baby J’s nursing strike.
  • So, You Wanna Milkshare? — Milk banks, informed community sharing and friends, oh my! So many ways to share the milky love; That Mama Gretchen is sharing her experience with each.
  • Milk Siblings: One Mama’s Milk Sharing Story (and Resources)Amber, guest posting at Code Name: Mama, shares how her views on milk sharing were influenced by her daughter receiving donor milk from a bank during a NICU stay, and how that inspired her to give her stash to a friend.
  • Humans Feeding Humans — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares ideas on how we can celebrate all the different ways modern mommies feed their babies. While we are comfortable with the breastmilk-formula paradigm, she proposes that we expand our horizons and embrace all the different ways mamas feed their infants.
  • When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned — MandyE of Twin Trials and Triumphs shares the challenges she faced in feeding her premature twins. She’s still learning to cope with things not having gone exactly as she’d always hoped.
  • Taking Back My Life By Giving Away My Milk — When Amanda Rose Adams‘s first child was born, he was tube fed, airlifted, ventilated, and nearly died twice. In the chaos of her son’s survival, pumping breast milk was physically and mentally soothing for Amanda. Before long her freezer was literally overflowing with milk – then she started giving it away.
  • The Tortoise and the Hare — Nona’s Nipples at The Touch of Life discusses why we care about breast milk and formula with everything inbetween.
  • Finding My Tribe of Women Through Milk Sharing — Mj, guest posting at San Diego Breastfeeding Center shares her journey breastfeeding with low milk supply and supplementing with donor milk using an at the breast supplemental nursing system. She shares the impact milk sharing has had on her life, her family, and how it saved her breastfeeding relationship. Her article can also be found at her blog:
  • Human Milk for Human Babies — Sam at Nelson’s Nest shares her perspective on milk-sharing after an unexpected premature delivery left her pumping in the hopes of breastfeeding her son one day. Sam’s milk was an amazing gift to the other preemie who received it, but the connection was a blessing in the donor mom’s life too!
  • Sister, I Honor You — A mother feeding her baby is a triumph and should be honored, not criticized. Before you judge or propagate your own cause, go find your sister. A post by Racher: Mama, CSW, at The Touch of Life.
  • Every Breastfeeding Journey Is Different, Every One Is Special — No two stories are alike, evidenced by That Mama Gretchen’s collaboration of a few dear mama’s reflections on their breastfeeding highs, lows and in betweens.
  • Quitting Breastfeeding — Jen W at How Do You Do It? share a letter she wrote to her boys, three years ago exactly, the day she quit breastfeeding after 9 months.
  • A Pumping Mom’s Journey — Shannah at Breastfeeding Utah shares about her journey pumping for her son, who was born at 29 weeks.

One Response to:
"Milk Siblings: One Mama’s Milk Sharing Story (and Resources)"

  1. I have a friend who had an oversupply of milk and was able to provide breast milk for her friend’s child as that mom had some health issues that caused her to lose her milk supply. What a wonderful gift to be able to give that family. I’m a big breast feeding advocate so I appreciate where you’re coming from on this.

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