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Sharing Breastmilk: Outdated or New Solution?


Wet nursing, or a woman nursingSkin to Skin another woman’s baby, has always been a part of the human experience. Although this practice has fallen out of fashion for most of the world, it still occurs. In the United States, mothers who feed other women’s babies are most likely doing it through breastmilk donation. There are several milk donation organizations that coordinate the screening, collections, treatment, and distribution of the breastmilk to NICUs (neonatal intensive care units) and newborns throughout the country.

I have heard situations where a neighbor will donate breastmilk to a mother who is struggling or unable to breastfeed. I have seen a community rally around a grieving father and donate breastmilk to a motherless newborn. I thought these situations were rare. I did not understand the vast resources that exist today for breastmilk donation outside of the hospital.

I met Kathleen Little at a breastfeeding support group. She had done everything that a breastfeeding mom is counseled to do to stimulate and establish a good milk supply. Despite her efforts her milk never progressed past the colostrum phase or Lactogenesis I. Kathleen learned through consulting an IBCLC (a board certified lactation consultant) and her physician that she has tubular breasts. Women with this condition have varied success breastfeeding due to having less glandular tissue in their breasts than is normally needed to exclusively breastfeed. Disheartened and spiraling into postpartum depression Kathleen reached out to other breastfeeding mothers for help. Her son was eight days old and wasn’t getting enough to eat. This mom wanted desperately for her baby to have the benefits of breastmilk even if it wasn’t from her breast. One mother put her in contact with a birth center that had a history of giving moms donor milk. Her baby started on donated breastmilk right away and continues to be healthy and thrive. Kathleen knew the donated breastmilk wouldn’t last long so she began searching for alternatives. She discovered organizations that guided her screening of donor mothers and helped her feel comfortable choosing this feeding method for the long term.

She states that one of the biggest obstacles was accepting the fact that she was unable to feed her baby exclusively from her own breast. An ongoing barrier is finding enough donors to supply her son. She supplements with formula when necessary. Kathleen shares, “…formula…isn’t evil, but it’s not what we prefer to have him eating yet.”

Her story amazed and touched me how important it was to her to feed her baby breastmilk. As a nurse red flags go up in my mind when someone tells me they got breastmilk off the internet. The possibility of infection, disease and improper handling overtook my medical brain. My first instinct was to reject her choice as an unnecessary danger to her baby. Kathleen was patient with my questions. She has done her research and referred me to websites that addressed all my concerns and some that I hadn’t thought about.


Kathleen’s advice to mothers in a similar situation.

1. Don’t beat yourself up if you have low milk production. It’s not your fault. It will drive you crazy if you let it.

2. A baby needs a healthy happy mommy more than he/she needs to attach to a breast to eat.

3. If you reach out for donor milk, do not be afraid to ask the donor any and every question about health and diet or to ask for disease screenings (be willing to pay for this lab work). Full disclosure is the key.

4. You should never have to buy breastmilk from an individual. If you go through a milk bank that may be different. Do replace your donor’s bags!!!

4. Trust your mommy instincts. Only you know what will work best for you and your family.


Read more about Kathleen’s journey in her own words.


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What Happened When I breastfed at a Texas High School Football Game…


I have breastfed almost everywhere, doing almost everything. All together I have breastfed 65 months of my life. That is a lot of opportunity for nursing in public.
As a young mother, nursing my first baby, I was embarrassed and fumbling under large blankets most of the time. It was summer and my poor baby would be drenched with sweat under the modesty shield. My mother breastfed and was supportive, but beyond that I endured all the typical stares, questions and comments that breastfeeding mothers receive. I remember a shopping trip taking longer than I expected. I had to sit in an oven of a car, trying to latch my screaming, hot infant. I should have been sitting in the comfortably cool mall food court.

Something happened that changed how I breastfed my babies. I had more of them. When baby girl arrived, just after baby boy turned one, I had an epiphany about breastfeeding. I HAD to be more flexible! It was mandatory and everyone else would have to live with it. I would breastfeed when and where my baby was hungry, while keeping up with an active toddler.

This strategy worked well for me and in I fit right in with crunchy Oregon mamas. Then I moved to Texas. Women warned me that it is different in Texas, it’s an old boy system, no one breastfeeds there, and I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed in public. I avoided going out for as long as possible.   I am a band mom and I couldn’t miss my oldest son march with the band.   I steeled myself for the first high school football game. I sat in the bleachers, looking at the people around me.  I knew my baby was getting hungrier. I watched buxom blondes and brunettes walk by. Their breasts were barely contained in their school spirit tanks. I had a comeback all ready to go, for when the security guard came to tell me to leave. My comeback speech would be epic and would involve the aforementioned tank tops. Finally I gritted my teeth and slipped my little girl under my band mom T-shirt and she had her dinner.

That’s when it happened……absolutely nothing. Not one person commented or even managed a sideways glance. I was not able to spout off my clever retort.  I wasn’t made a fearless champion for breastfeeding, singled out for ridicule or praise.  I was just a mom watching my kid march with the band while feeding my hungry baby.

I have since breastfed everywhere in Texas, museums, parks, NASA, the DMV line, restaurants, hospitals, schools, and churches. I breastfed for the last time in our town’s Christmas Parade, sitting on a float in the freezing cold.

I didn’t know it would be the last time or my last baby. That’s just how it happened. It happened in Texas.

My advice to all you new and experienced mamas: Feed your babies where and when they are hungry! I wish I had been more comfortable the first go round. I wish I had not tortured myself and my baby because of society’s ideas about public breastfeeding. We have all heard the stories of boobie backlash. I challenge you to go ahead and brave it. You might get some negative comments, but in most states you have the legal right to breastfeed in public. Maybe someone will be watching you, a future mom or dad. Seeing you confidently breastfeed could make their choice to breastfeed easier.

You will be surprised that, in most cases, no one will give you a second glance.

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A Mother’s Breastfeeding Journey

Kathleen Ramsey Little

Successful Breastfeeding Mom

Written by: Kathleen Ramsey Little

August 2014

I’m sitting on the edge of a cliff grasping for what little branches I can find to hang onto.

Using all my strength to keep from plunging down to the deep dark waters of depression below.

I feel incomplete.

Like I’m not a full woman. It’s as if I am not what a real mom should be. I want to nurture and feed him enough to support his life like a mother is supposed to do, but I can’t and it’s tearing me apart inside.

A daily struggle with thoughts saying I’m inadequate. Not good enough. Not a real woman.

I feel defeated.

No. Reaching harder so I don’t fall.

My child will still thrive and be healthy. My baby is loved. He is my world, my life, my everything. I must hold on for him.

I’ve done my best; I’ve tried my hardest. I am a real woman; I am a good mom. My best is more than good enough. I love my baby and he loves me.

Breastfeeding doesn’t only mean attached to the breast. It also means expressed AND donor’s milk.

I am NOT a failure.

I am a Successful Breastfeeding Mom.