Many women are unable to breastfeed their babies due to a variety of reasons, including congenital breast abnormalities, breast cancer or a mastectomy, or dependence on medications that would be harmful for their baby. It can be devastating to a mother who wants to breastfeed her newborn to find out she will be unable to feed her baby in this most intimate way. Some women turn to milk banks to give their babies the best start at life. While this is a feasible option for someone whose insurance finds their baby’s need for breast milk medically necessary or for someone who can afford to pay over a hundred dollars a day for breast milk, for others formula is the only affordable option.
Sometimes though, formula is not even an option or the best option, as is the case with preemies or babies with an allergy to formula. For example, Joy of Florida adopted two babies, and one had reflux and a milk protein allergy. She tried every formula with no success, “but in the end, the only thing that stopped the vomiting is having her on 100 percent breast milk. My baby is not vomiting and is smiling and pain free for the first time since she was born eight weeks ago.” Joy is one of many donor recipients whose children benefit from a not widely known and somewhat controversial practice known as milk sharing.
When most people hear the term, they think of informal milk sharing as in breastfeeding your family or friend’s baby or pumping milk for the lady down the street. While every individual has the choice as to how they share their breast milk and every donor recipient can choose to accept or refuse it, sharing breast milk informally is not widely accepted in the USA due to the risks of spreading AIDS and other communicable diseases. When I attended a local La Leche League meeting and suggested milk sharing, I was unable to finish my recommendation because the leader immediately chimed in by stating LLL’s official position on the risks. While I have to agree there are risks with informal milk sharing, I want mothers everywhere to know there is another way to obtain safe donor breastmilk at little cost to you and your donor by using the online resource and connection point, MilkShare.
The site was designed by Kelley Faulkner, a mother who was unable to breastfeed her baby yet desperately wanted for her son to be breastfed. Since its inception in 2004, hundreds of babies have benefitted from donor milk at a fraction of the cost of using a milk bank. According to La Leche League International, milk banks in the USA charge an average of $2.50 per ounce, but apparently the cost can vary considerably. Felicia, a breast cancer survivor of Illinois was paying a whopping $48 per ounce to feed her son who was born with a congenital defect in his GI tract. Using MilkShare, on the other hand, a donor recipient only has to pay for storage bags, shipping if necessary, and screening at the donor’s request. If she finds a local donor, she will only be responsible for supplies and possibly screening. The donor is responsible for the breast pump since it belongs to her and simply pumping breast milk as she desires. Felicia says she has spent anywhere from $50-$300 in any given month and her son who was once diagnosed as failure to thrive without donor milk “is now off the charts for height and weight.”
Aside from the low cost of using MilkShare, the primary benefit is that it puts control back into the hands of the donor and donor recipient. They find each other by joining the MilkShare yahoo group and posting an introduction about themselves. Screening as done in a milk bank is highly recommended and information is given on the website as to how to do this simple process, but ultimately, the decision is between the donor and the recipient. Recipients usually require at least a health history and a blood test to test for communicable blood borne pathogens, including HIV 1 & 2, Hepatitis B & C, Syphilis, and HTLV 1 & 2, the same screening required to donate to a milk bank. Usually a donating mother has no problem obtaining these because they are done by her health care provider during pregnancy, whether it be an OB/GYN or a midwife.
When asked what one thing she would change about MilkShare, donor Kandace from Minnesota said, “I would try and get more donors on the list. I had so many people needing my milk it was extremely heartbreaking to turn them down.” Donor recipient Felicia of Illinois stated, “no baby would ever be ill and in need of milk and no mother would ever feel her heart breaking when she couldn’t feed her infant as nature intended. The only thing I would ever change about MilkShare is that I would make the need for it non-existent.” For further information about becoming a breast milk donor or donor recipient, please visit the MilkShare website.
Felicia. Online Interview. 27 Sept 2007.
Joy. Online Interview. 01 Oct 2007.
Kandace. Online Interview. 29 Sept 2007.
Kelley Faulkner, “Breastmilk Donation.” Milk Share.
Kelley Faulkner, “Screening Breastmilk Donors.” Milk Share.
Lois D. W. Arnold, “Becoming a Donor to A Human Milk Bank.” La Leche League International.