When she gave birth to her daughter, Portia Brodie Zwicker, 35, had every intention of breastfeeding her. But when she tried to nurse her baby, she experienced a surprisingly common problem: her daughter never latched.
“I saw a few lactation consultants while in the hospital and a private one afterwards,” Zwicker, who is based in upstate New York, told Romper. “She had laser surgery for lip and tongue tie, but that still didn’t help. I pumped for about three months and bottle fed her. Then I got lazy with the overnight pumping and lost my supply. I’ve always felt guilty since.”
Unable to breastfeed her daughter, Zwicker struggled with guilt about bottle feeding her baby. She was faced with a conundrum: as a mom who wholeheartedly believed the slogan, “brea*st is best,” what did that mean for mothers like her, who weren’t able to nurse their baby?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)’s guidelines suggest that exclusive breastfeeding is the safest and healthiest option for babies during the first six months of life. Yet an estimated 35 percent of mothers wean before that because they believe their milk supply is low, according to the Journal of Nursing Scholarship. After endless pumping, experimenting with supplements like fenugreek or fennel seed and creating cookies from known galactagogues, or foods that are known to increase milk production, many desperate moms like Zwicker are looking for one more chance to give their child brea*st milk instead of formula.
Although there’s been endless debate for decades over the merits of breastfeeding versus formula-feeding, these days the slogan “brea*st is best” is something of a mantra for new moms. Yet while 79% of mothers take this mantra to heart by initiating breastfeeding immediately after birth, according to the most recent Breastfeeding Report Card by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number falls steadily from day one. In fact, only 40% of babies are exclusively breastfed until they are six months old, according to UNICEF.
For many moms, that isn’t for lack of trying. In fact, 5% of mothers have a medical condition prevents them from producing brea*st milk, such as forms of brea*st cancer, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Additionally, countless mothers without such medical conditions may be limited by environmental factors, such as difficulty with latch, poor breastfeeding education, or a lack of support from their employer or significant other.
As someone who used donor milk to feed my own daughter, my inability to produce enough milk for her on my own was prompted mostly by work difficulties. Due to my demanding work schedule and my difficulty pumping enough milk for my daughter while I was away during my 14-hour shifts, I had to seek other options. Being able to secure brea*st milk to supplement my own supply, in addition to what I was pumping, enabled me to continue nursing my daughter when we were together.
There are four ways that donor milk is distributed to babies in need. Some milk is donated directly to a hospital for use in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to be used for premature babies whose mothers are struggling to pump enough before they are able to breastfeed.
Others may chose to sell their milk to a for-profit bank like Medolac or to sell online by placing an ad on Craigslist or sites that facilitate for-profit milk sharing, such as Only the brea*st. Some moms may simply give their milk to a friend or directly to a mom they connected with through an altruistic, peer-to-peer milk sharing program such as Human Milk 4 Human Babies or Eats on Feets.
The use of donor brea*st milk isn’t without controversy, specifically when a mother uses online services or peer-to-peer milk sharing to obtain donor milk instead of utilizing a milk bank that screens and pasteurizes all donated milk.
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