It has been proven time and time again that breastfeeding is best when it comes to feeding our babies. While formula is certainly acceptable as a substitute, it is no match for the nutrients and antibodies that breast milk provides. And this is especially so with the alarm recent recalls of formula has produced.
However, breastfeeding is not always possible. Some mothers have a hard time producing enough milk to nourish their baby. Some babies are adopted, or provided via surrogate, meaning that their mother is not capable of breastfeeding them*. Some mothers are on medication that doesn’t allow for breastfeeding, or have contracted an illness that would make breastfeeding dangerous. Yet, for some of these situations the desire to feed their baby with human breast milk still exists.
A concern for many breastfeeding advocates, this especially was tugging at the heartstrings of Shell Walker, a mom to wee ones in the 90’s. She, with several of her friends, founded their own local organization that was reminiscent of Meals on Wheels, but with a breastier option.
Eats on Feets was born.
The basis behind the group was to allow willing women who had a surplus of milk to become something reminiscent of wet nurses for those who were unable to breastfeed, yet still wished for their child to receive the benefits of breast milk. The idea was so inspiring that Walker’s friend, lactating mother Emma Kwasnica from Canada, asked if she could use the name for something a bit more widespread, allowing babies far and wide a chance to receive breast milk in situations they normally would not be able to. Thus began a revolution that has been unfolding into something huge by word of mouth and networking. Through Facebook, Kwasnica began matching donors and recipients around the world, becoming responsible for making Eats on Feets the largest human milk sharing network in the world.
One such story involves a Canadian man living in Bandung, Indonesia. The school teacher and single father to a newborn son wondered if he could source human milk for his baby instead of feeding his son a powdered breast milk substitute. Aware of his situation, Kwasnica put the call out to her vast network via a simple status update on Facebook, and a breastfeeding peer counselor in a neighboring city in Indonesia responded. A string of lactating women on the ground was assembled to provide human milk locally for the infant boy. Now three months old, this baby has never tasted anything other than human milk.
Eats on Feets is networked solely through Facebook, and not on a website. Unlike milk banks (that can cost a family $100+ a day), Eats on Feets is a free service. To learn more about Eats on Feets, visit the Northern California chapter’s page at http://www.facebook.com/eatsonfeetsnorcal.
Of course, there are concerns when it comes to human milk sharing, something that the organization acknowledges. Along with the pros of sharing breast milk, they note on their pages that some diseases in a lactating woman have the possibility of being passed through breast milk. They urge that donors and recipients follow safe handling guidelines of breast milk, and encourage recipients to “know thy source”. They urge blood testing on their website among donors to ensure safety, but it appears that safety measures are in the hands of the donor and recipient, and not on the organization.
My personal opinion? While I see the major benefits that this organization is offering, I have to admit that the idea of breast milk sharing makes me a little squeamish. However, the idea behind human milk sharing is not a new one. The practice, while not as common in present times, was a common one years ago through wet nurses and community sharing (it takes a village…). And for a child without the option of breast feeding from his or her own mother, this program would be offering something that has the ability to benefit the rest of their lives.
What is your take on human breast milk sharing? Would you?
*admittedly it is possible for adoptive mothers, and even fathers, to breastfeed. However, I have never come across such a case, leading me to believe that it’s not a common practice, and could possibly lead to one of the reasons a parent might be in need of a breast milk donor.
When I was a baby, my mom got sick and was unable to supply me the nourishment I needed. Meanwhile, a friend of ours who had given birth right around the same time, had a respectable surplus and was more than willing to help out…so I was raised largely, early on, on frozen milk donated by one of my mom’s besties. It helped out everyone and brought our two families closer.
I would certainly use milk sharing to get my baby the absolute best, if that were necessary. I would most definitely prefer that to the toxins in formula. I would also love to donate milk.
Does it make you more squeamish than feeding a child milk from another specied? (I’m not being snarky, just something to think about.)
I would absolutely prefer to use donor milk from women I trust than to risk using a breastmilk substitute.
I would, and I have. I have a huge surplus in a freezer, and one local mama needed some to avoid supplementing in the hospital, as her twins were in the PCU and jaundiced, and she didn’t yet have enough supply to keep the hospital staff happy. I gave her 45 or so ounces and that was enough for her to keep her babies healthy, and gave her time to establish her supply. I have about 500 ozs right now saved up, and I plan to donate it to a man adopting an infant soon.
“Some babies are adopted, or provided via surrogate, meaning that their mother is not capable of breastfeeding them”
This statement is completely false, and should be retracted immediately. Plenty of women have induced lactation without having ever been pregnant, and so have a few fathers when it has proved necessary. In surrogacy situations when you have a more accurate idea of when you will get your baby its far easier to induce an adequate supply beforehand; also most surrogacy agreements cover breastmilk for at least the first weeks and sometimes the first year and beyond.
If I were to die I know who would provide breast milk for my children, this was actually much easier to decide than who would get custody of my kids if we both die.
I would absolutely use donor milk if I had to, and I would donate as well if it ever worked out. I would also nurse anyone else’s baby directly if the situation arose, however I admit that seeing someone else nurse my baby might make me jealous -I don’t think you can know until you get there.
However I would argue that formula is not acceptable, particularly powdered formula. The rate of disease causing microbes is far too high.
@Mystic – thanks for the heads up. Please see the update I included at the end of the article.
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regarding adoptive nursing … I worked with a client that was an adoptive Mom of twins. The surrogate pumped and provided top up.
The intended Mom hired me to help her induce and maintain lactation so she could meet her goal of breastfeeding the twins for at least a year.
She made milk! 😀
Just to let you know, breastfeeding an adopted baby or foster baby is no problem. If the woman has breastfed one baby all it will take is patience and continious skin to skin. Even women who have not had babies can do this. If it is difficult you could supplement with hormones. This is quite aknowledged in Norway, and respected gynecologist and national lactation hero Dr Gro Nylander has written about it. I’m sure if you look you will find cases in your area.