When Tommy was born, my milk came in quickly and abundantly. It took a few weeks, but things eventually settled down, and I had just enough milk for him the whole time he was nursing. There were a few mishaps: I got mastitis once, which sucked, and I discovered that certain antihistamines drastically lower milk supply, and then I got pregnant before I wanted to stop breastfeeding, which ultimately ended the whole endeavour when Tommy was 11 months old, but otherwise things went pretty smoothly. Nevertheless, I was constantly anxious about having either too much or not enough milk.
When Miso was born, he was what my midwife called a “cluster feeder”. The first evening of his life he fed for five hours straight. I tried to get him to stop about 4 hours in, and he sucked his arm so hard he got blood blisters. He did something like this (though not quite as bad) almost every night for the first week, and generally fed very frequently until… Actually, he still does.
My body responded by producing a LOT of milk. I had plugged ducts three times in the first three weeks because they were too full to be drained properly after a feed, which bumped my breastfeeding grade down to an A-. I started pumping and feeding it to Tommy, or else dumping it. I knew I could just wait it out and my supply would settle down, but that seemed like a waste. So I looked into donating milk.
There’s a group called Human Milk 4 Human Babies that helps women who have extra milk together with women who have too little, but who are committed to giving their babies breastmilk. They call it “informed milk sharing”: it’s not a milk bank, but it’s safer than anonymous milk sharing or buying. Families receiving milk are free to ask for blood tests for the relevant pathogens, and donors expect to be asked (I did, anyway).
It seemed like a no-brainer to me, an easy way to deal with my oversupply without feeling guilty about pumping and dumping or just letting my supply decrease (there are starving children in the inner city!)
Here’s what I didn’t count on. My anxiety about my supply is basically gone. I have a buffer baby, who drinks whatever Miso doesn’t need, and gets a bit less when Miso is cluster feeding. I know that if my supply starts to drop off, I have a long way to go before I need to worry about formula. I pump once a day, which is a little tedious, and I’m constantly hungry, but it’s totally worth it for the anxiety management.
So I think more women should donate breastmilk. I think hospitals should distribute literature on the subject. I think midwives should recommend it to women with decent supply (and should help women with low supply find donors). Yes, donating makes you feel good about yourself, which is nice, but more importantly, at least for me, it curbs anxiety when you’re at a point where you’ve got so much else to be anxious about. And for that, as much as I know the family I give milk to is grateful to me, I’m also very grateful to them.
- I think it was cetirizine (Claritin?) that I took for a bit. I had developed a few autoimmune issues postpartum, including psoriasis, eczema, and a sun allergy. Go figure. It’s all cleared up now, except the eczema, which I’ve probably had all my life, it just got worse after Tommy was born.
- For those who haven’t breastfed: there are periods around growth spurts where you feel like you’re producing less milk, but it’s actually just that your little parasite is eating more. Then you start producing more milk in response, at which point they sleep lots and miss a few feeds, and you have heaps and heaps of milk.
- The Longest Shortest Time, an excellent podcast on parenting, did an episode where the host and a guest gave themselves grades on three aspects of being a mother that are essentially out of our control: childbirth, breastfeeding, and sleep. They were joking… Except I think they weren’t. We Type A parents have a tendency to engage in competitive parenting. So without further ado, I’d give myself a D for childbirth, an A+ for breastfeeding, and an A- for sleep with Tommy. With Miso, I’d generously give myself a B+ for childbirth, an A- for breastfeeding, and a B for sleep.