I never planned on donating breast milk. Milk sharing wasn’t even something I knew about until I stumbled across it on a mom page on Facebook.
Now, years into pumping, almost solely for donation, I am so grateful I found out about it. I am grateful I have had the opportunity to nourish not just my children, but others as well.
My early experiences with pumping were traumatic. They involved a lot of tears, confusion, frustration and more. With my oldest son, I nursed him for 6 weeks. I remember my first attempt to pump the day we came home from the hospital. My milk had just come in and I was painfully engorged. Nobody was there to help me and in my pain and confusion I ended up sobbing when pumping wasn’t successful. I don’t even remember where I had gotten the pump from but I had no clue how to use it or if I even had all the correct parts. I never tried to pump again after that first attempt and that sped along the quick demise of my breastfeeding journey with my son.
When my daughter was born, I had spent years researching everything I could. I wanted this time to be different. I needed pumping to go more smoothly. I soaked up all information about breastfeeding and pumping like a sponge.
She was born, our first latch was idyllic, my milk came in sooner, and I was thrilled. My excitement would be short lived though. At her two week check up, she was not back to birth weight. Her pediatrician suggested I pump and feed her a bottle after each nursing session to see if she would take it and to gauge how much breast milk she was getting. So again, I faced the dreaded pump.
I was so anxious about pumping that I forgot almost everything I thought I knew at that point. The only benefit is that this time, I had a new, insurance-provided pump and proper parts and accessories. I pumped less than 1 ounce which again, left me sobbing. We did attempt to feed it to our daughter and she did take the bottle (yay!) but again, the pump left me feeling defeated. Ultimately, I met with a lactation consultant and my daughter regained her birth weight before she was 3 weeks old. She has always been a slow weight gainer.
Around the time she was 6 weeks old, I needed a break. But how could I get a break when she was strictly breastfed? What did other moms do? They pumped. I would need to face the dreaded pump, again.
It was another week before I worked up the courage to try the pump. This time I tried to take the pressure off myself. I told myself that if I only got an ounce or so, that was ok. I took my time, and I used all the knowledge I had soaked up in years prior. I made a plan.
- For starters, I let go of my anxiety surrounding the pump since this time, it didn’t matter what happened.
- Secondly, milk production is generally highest in the morning, so I planned to pump about 1 hour after my daughter’s early morning nursing session. I had all my parts cleaned, sanitized, assembled and ready. My pump was plugged in at my spot on the couch and I had played around with the settings to get a feel for what would work.
- I had also invested in a nifty hands-free nursing bra. I was ready.
I did it! I had my very first successful pumping session. I can’t tell you now how much I pumped that morning, but I can tell you I felt relief, accomplishment, and pride in overcoming such a huge challenge. I also gained freedom, in that I could leave my daughter with another caregiver in order to get a break. As a stay at home mom, I was finding my need for a break to be important.
At some point, I decided to plan ahead, and pump on the mornings I knew I would be away from my baby. Soon after, I decided to pump every morning, to have “just in case” milk.
The progression from pumping occasionally to pumping daily took a few weeks to turn into a habit, but once I found my rhythm, I wondered how pumping was ever such a struggle. (But oh it was!)
I pumped every single morning for 14 months straight. While I used a small amount of the milk for my own daughter, I realized early on that most of it would go bad before I could use it. Remembering mention of milk donation on mom pages on Facebook, I started digging for more information.
I found two pages on Facebook that facilitate milk donation in local settings. I posted that I had a stash to share. Soon, I was chatting with a mom who would become a long term recipient. Her child was a similar age as my daughter, she lived nearby, and the match seemed like a good fit. After her child reached age 1, I donated small bits of my stash to a few other moms who needed one-time donations.
Shortly before my own daughter weaned, I began weaning myself from the pump. We had a biting incident and a nursing strike that I thought marked the end of my breastfeeding journey with her. I was pumping to decrease my supply, which at this point was an oversupply from my morning pumping sessions. Even though my daughter went on to nurse for a few more months, I didn’t need pumped milk to take my breaks as she happily ate solid foods at this point. I was sad to be done nursing but so happy to know that my body was able to nourish my own child, along with helping a few others. After my breastfeeding journey with my oldest, my success breastfeeding and pumping were huge turnarounds and felt like personal victories. My body hadn’t failed me, I just needed to be patient.
Around the time my daughter weaned, I became pregnant with my third baby. There was never a question in my mind if I would pump for donation with my next baby. My body was capable and this was my last opportunity to give back in this way since it was my last baby.
I am happy to say my 3rd child, a son, came into this world with an eager appetite and heavenly latch. My milk came in in less than 24 hours and he regained his birth weight in 2 days. It was a pleasant start to what I hoped would be another wonderful breastfeeding journey.
I waited until my milk started to regulate around 6 weeks postpartum to begin my morning pumping sessions. Ironically, what began as pumping milk to get a break became a break time itself. I came to savor the peaceful time spent pumping before the chaos of the day would begin.
I am now 10 months into my 2nd round of donating breast milk. This journey has led me to meet more mamas and babies who have benefitted from my milk. I developed a friendship with one mom and was able to attend the first birthday of a baby I had helped feed. It was such a neat experience to be a unique part of his life.
Another unique circumstance during this journey of donating breast milk has been while on vacation with my family. I continued to pump and freeze milk for the duration of our two week trip. I soon realized the logistical challenges of transporting my milk home would risk all of the milk being wasted. I reached out to the local milk sharing group of my destination to offer my small stash to a local mom and baby. Thankfully, within minutes I connected with a mom. I was able to offload my stash and rest assured it would not be wasted or potentially go bad before use.
I’ve found the breast milk sharing community to be one of extreme gratitude. Pumping is hard work. I’m asking my body to do more than it technically needs to. I’m washing pump parts daily. I’m investing in a pump, parts, bottles, storage bags, and more. Many recipient moms replace bags for donors to use for milk storage, which is a wonderful way to offer what they can for your time and efforts. Regardless of that, recipient moms are always profusely thankful. I know they had to make a difficult choice on their journeys and I’m just grateful to support them in this way.
Donating breast milk is not all sunshine and rainbows. I had one bad experience in the years I’ve been donating. You’ll have that with anything though. You do it for long enough, and something will inevitably go wrong. I also don’t always eagerly jump out of bed to pump. Some mornings, I still look at the pump as the dreaded pump that I do not want to hook myself up to. But I do it anyway, if just for the routine.