Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Modern Day Wet Nurse

So.  I make milk.  It's my superpower.  I'm writing up this story for Mothers of Change but I had to give you a sneak preview.  I'm going to add several updated photos of Brayden with hunk a chunk chins but I need to get Melissa to send them to me first.  September 26th to October 3rd is Milk Sharing Week, according to Human Milk for Human Babies' website!!  Yay for people milk!!

Here's my post (pardon the official sounding voice; not so colloquial over on Mothers of Change....I kind of want people to take me seriously over there, but here?  You know I'm just a swears-like-a-sailor farm girl with unedited typos all the time....)

What did women used to do in the days before artificial baby milk, when their babies needed milk they couldn't provide?  Milk share!  Women have been networking long before the internet!  Most people have heard of 'wet nurses,' women who were paid money to breastfeed another woman's baby.  These wet nurses were generally from lower income families, nursing babies from wealthy families.  But there were also countless times when women were ill or traveling without their babies, or unable to provide adequate amounts of milk, when sisters, neighbours, and good friends would step in to nurse each other's babies.  This tradition continues today.

You likely remember the story of my friends Melissa and Geoff who gave birth in July to baby Brayden.  Melissa is one of my best friends, and I was her doula.  Since my name is also Melissa, hopefully this post won't be too confusing.  To help I will refer to Melissa as Melissa K, and to myself in the first person.
I had my fourth baby on March 1st.  I am currently nursing her nearly exclusively; I say 'nearly' since she just started eating solid food last week, and I also nurse her three year old brother two to three times per day.  Tandem nursing is not something I've done before but it is working out well.  Breastmilk capacity is based upon supply and demand; what a child or children demand, a woman's body will supply.  Thus, I have enough milk for both my children. 

Little Amarys, getting into trouble

Nursing my three year old

 I tend to struggle with oversupply, although this time around I have managed my supply well enough to have few of the problems associated with producing too much milk.  People often comment that I'm fortunate to have oversupply, and I would rather have too much than too little milk, but an over abundant supply of milk carries problems and difficulties which can be quite challenging.  But, on the bright side, having abundant milk means I was able to donate hundreds of ounces of milk to the breastmilk bank at BC Women's Hospital in 2003, provide my adopted son with 14 months worth of pumped breastmilk, and now, to tandem nurse my baby and my toddler.  It also helped me when Melissa K. texted me three weeks after Brayden was born to say that he was not yet at his birth weight, had gained only 1.5 ounces in the previous week, and did I have any tips?  She was being strongly advised to supplement by her midwife.  She didn't want to use formula but was also very worried about Brayden's minimal weight gain.

Yikes!  1.5 ounces in one week?!  This baby needed milk, and he needed it today.  In all of Canada there is only one human milk bank and the milk there is designated for sick NICU babies who need all they can get, so banked human milk was not an option.  I texted her, "You can always use donor milk."  There is an organization I had read about called Human Milk For Human Babies (formerly Eats on Feets), which facilitates woman to woman milk sharing all over the world.  I also know several women who have shared milk when babies are in need, including Amy from Anktangle who provided my friend Rachel from Clearly Speaking with pumped supplemental milk for six months when Rachel struggled to provide a full supply for her son Bennett.  I also follow Cinco De Mommy, who uses donor milk from a handful of friends to provide breastmilk for her fifth baby who was born after a breast reduction.  I offered that since we are close friends and I live nearby, Melissa K. could use some of my milk as a supplement.  She and Geoff jumped with joy at the idea of using donated milk rather than use formula.  I drove over that night to drop off eleven ounces of pumped milk that I happened to have in my freezer, and sat down and made a plan with them in order to help Melissa K get her milk supply back up to as full a capacity as possible.  Dr. Jack Newman is an excellent resource on increasing milk supply.  

In the case of very slow weight gain in a newborn baby, particularly not returning to birth weight by three weeks of age (which is bordering on the failure to thrive category), it is important to address the problem by separating it into three separate issues: first, feed the baby.  Second, work to increase milk supply.  Third, teach the baby to breastfeed.  Melissa K and Geoff decided to use my milk to supplement what Melissa was making, addressing "feed the baby."  They rented a good quality pump and Melissa started taking herbal and prescription galactogogues to address "increasing milk supply."  A visit with a lactation consultant revealed ways to improve Brayden's latch so he could drain the breast more fully.

For the past five weeks, Geoff comes by my house at 8:30 every morning, Tuesday through Friday.  I pump several ounces before I go to bed, and several more in the morning when I wake up, and I leave the milk out on my front stoop with some ice for him to pick up.  Tuesdays I have three or four bags for him, stockpiled over the weekend, and Brayden happily drinks it up.

Sometimes while I'm pumping, Amarys gets hungry...

My three sons are fascinated by my pump, and the resulting milk
which is nicknamed "Brayden's milkies"

Milk on the stoop
Human milk sharing isn't for everyone.  Some parents are more comfortable using formula rather than live milk from a donor [some would likely prefer pasteurized human milk from a milk bank, which is of course not available in Canada, although it is possible to purchase human milk from some U.S. milk banks who ship to Canada for approximately $3 to $5 per ounce].  But others prefer the benefits of live human milk, and the age old tradition of milk sharing is making a comeback.  Melissa K and Geoff have recieved donor milk from another friend as well, particularly when I go out of town for several days, or experience dips in my supply.

Brayden, 4 weeks old and well past his birth weight

Since working intensely hard to increase her supply, after five weeks Melissa K has been able to provide most of what Brayden needs, and supplements in the afternoons and evenings with donated milk.  She still pumps numerous times throughout the day and takes herbs and prescription medication to keep her supply up.  For the first few weeks she supplemented with my milk after every feed, but now after five weeks she is able to provide most of what he needs, and I just fill in the gaps.  Last week he weighed in at 9 pounds, 8 ounces, with cute chubby cheeks to prove it.

Hunk-a-chunk cheeks

He's such a happy go lucky guy.  Isn't he cute?


Sandra said...

What kind of herbs can you take to keep your milk supply? I also pump several times day and night, but my milk supply seems to go straight down.. =(

melissa said...

Sandra; I emailed you a reply which I'm sure you got! But in case you didn't, and in case anyone else has the same question, I will also answer here! =)
The herbs that have the most research evidence for increasing milk supply are fenugreek and blessed thistle. These herbs are best if taken in pill form, since it is difficult to get a large enough dose to affect your milk by drinking tea. I think, actually, the herbs would be the most potent if taken fresh, now that I think about it!! But I'm not sure where you would get those! The link I provided in my post for Jack Newman's website has more details on fenugreek and blessed thistle, if you need dosages or have more questions! I can't remember the exact dose, but he is the expert on breastfeeding so his advice would be the best.

Asheya said...

LOVED this post on Mothers of Change. Thanks so much for sharing :) --both your milk and the story of how you are sharing you milk. You rock!

Also, consider a tincture for blessed thistle or fenugreek to increase milk supply. Tinctures are made from herbs are soaked in alcohol for 4-6 weeks, which extracts the active properties of the herb and I believe concentrates them.

Amy K said...

Great post!! Good for you for milk sharing! It's so good to hear of stories like this when they are happening!

Interested in fresh fenugreek? With my second a baby, I was out of fenugreek pills and remembered that I used Fenugreek when making curry powder a few years back, so I went back to a local Indian market and bought some more. Fenugreen seed looks like little brown irregular pebbles. I ground it up with my coffee/spice grinder (So it would disperse in my system faster) and put a couple teaspoons in my morning maple syrup flavored oatmeal and you can't even tell it's there. Plus, it's so much cheaper than the pills!

How much should you take? Keep taking it until you smell like maple syrup! That's the fenugreek working. I would start taking it before I knew I'd be doing a lot of pumping and it would help bump up my supply.

Sandra - Some people are just not good "pumpers", meaning that there is nothing wrong with your technique; just that pumping doesn't work as well for you as it might for others. In any case, NO pump is going to be as efficient as your baby at draining your breasts. Which in turn, brings your supply down. This is why fenugreek and blessed thistle can help, by increasing your supply to start. Good luck!

Erika Myette said...

Hi - I saw this on the Natural Parents Network on FB and just had to share. My Bradley Birth instructor and her husband had their second just after our first was born, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was just 9 months old. Because of all the meds and tests she had to take, it was necessary to quickly wean him. 8 of us "Milk Mamas," some from the class, others from the neighborhood, stepped up and provided him with enough milk to remain exclusively breastmilk-fed until his first birthday, which was her goal. It was such an honor to use my breasts to give her child milk when hers couldn't, and I still treasure the milk sharing almost 9 years later. I too was forced to wean a child quickly and "early" (21 months, but earlier than planned and in one quick day) due to medical issues, but she was so old there was no need to replace the mama milk. It was heartbreaking though, and makes me even more aware of how grateful my Bradley teacher must have been for the fantastic mamas who pumped those 10 weeks for her son.

Go milk sharing mamas!!!

melissa said...

Thanks for the tips on fenugreek, Asheya and Amy! I passed those on to Melissa K and will store them away for future reference. I especially like that fenugreek seeds are cheaper than the pills!! SOLD!

@Erika, what a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us! Ack, heartbreak. It would be devastating to have to wean earlier than planned or expected. And it sure is empowering to donate to a baby in need.

Jen said...

Love it! What a wonderful, practical and valuable gift of love you are giving, Mel.

Tonya said...

Melissa, you are such a wonderful friend. Thanks for sharing your story of your willingness to love your friends and their baby! I love you!!!

Amy @ Anktangle said...

Thanks for the shout out! I also had oversupply issues, and I agree, I'd rather have too much than too little, but it's still a challenge. For me, that's part of why donating my milk was so satisfying: pumping helped me to feel better, and the milk was going to mamas and babies who needed it. Thank you for sharing your story, and for the gift of your milk that you've given! <3

Amy @ Anktangle said...

Thanks for the shout out! I also had oversupply issues, and I agree, I'd rather have too much than too little, but it's still a challenge. For me, that's part of why donating my milk was so satisfying: pumping helped me to feel better, and the milk was going to mamas and babies who needed it. Thank you for sharing your story, and for the gift of your milk that you've given! <3

LMMB said...

Love this post! I also had an over supply and like you donated milk via Milk sharing sites here's my post about it.. I love to see mom's helping other mom's with BFing!