The Breastmilk Option

This post was written by Adoptions Together’s Director of Development, Laura Duvelius who recently adopted her 3rd child, Asa.

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Baby Asa, 3 months

The Breastmilk Option

I am not a pediatrician, or a nutritionist, and I don’t have an advanced degree in maternal and child health. I am a mother of three beautiful children, one biological and two I adopted many, many years apart. I was asked to write this blog as I have taken an interesting path to find resources for my newly adopted infant son. Please understand that these are my opinions. Please consult your doctor and/or other professionals before following any of the advice in this article. Please study this topic carefully and make an informed choice.

In May of 2016 my husband and I adopted a beautiful baby boy named Asa through domestic infant adoption. Becoming a parent again was a wonderful gift. Like many parents find, the wonder of having a child (who you adopt, give birth to, or choose to provide loving support to) can open you up to a world of education you never imagined you would be learning about. This was very much the case when it came to finding what we feel was the best nutrition possible for Asa.

When Asa arrived home we noticed right away he was very tall but appeared a bit thin. He also had trouble feeding and much of his formula ran down his chin. At his first check up at the pediatrician, she explained that our son had a tongue tie and upper lip tie, and he would need a simple corrective procedure to help him overcome these challenges. She also explained she was concerned about his lack of weight gain. He had not progressed past his birth weight or even regained his weight lost in his first 30 days of his life. She felt the procedure would do the trick, and explained frequent feedings would help him gain weight.

Figuring out Feeding

At that point, my husband and I dove into learning about the best feeding options for optimal nutrition. We wanted to learn about every resource possible. I had breastfed our first son 14 years earlier, and our daughter had joined the family as a toddler so needless to say, we were rusty! I began trying to reactivate my own breastmilk and was unable to get it started despite trying a wide variety of options. It was then that my dear friend suggested I look into breast milk donation.

It began with friends who were nursing their infants who could set aside some for our son, and then it progressed to utilizing a Facebook site called Human Milk for Human Babies. I posted a request on the wall and was contacted by 6 mothers within an hour of my post who were all offering milk, free of charge. Our first weekend of frozen breast milk pickups our family hopped in the car and drove to four cities to meet donor moms. We met in a shopping mall, a library, Starbucks and an individual home. My teenagers were initially embarrassed, but became increasingly more comfortable as time went on.

We purchased a deep freezer and began accepting as many donation as possible. Given our son’s eating habits, we need about 850 ounces every four weeks. We work to keep two months of breastmilk stocked in the freezer at any point and drive to pick up milk an average of twice per month. Our goal is to maintain his breast milk diet until he is a minimum of one year old (though I hope until he is 2).

Finding a New Normal

At this point our son has been on 25-30 ounces of breastmilk per day for the last (almost) three months. He is now in the 95% for weight and 98% for height. We often get milk from moms we have established relationships with who call me when “Asa’s milk is ready”. Some moms discuss their excitement about being able to help with an adoption situation. We are developing wonderful bonds with other parents who have small children. We call our circle of moms Asa’s “milk mothers” (please note, your child does not need to have any medical challenge, and does not need to have been adopted to participate in milk sharing).

In a recent conversation with our pediatrician, we were discussing Asa’s milk mothers. She expressed how impressed she is with Asa’s health- his skin is beautifully hydrated, a shining dark golden brown, his curly hair is growing quickly and his fingernails grow so fast that we have to trim them twice a week. His doctor asked about his milk mothers. I explained that he is drinking milk from a variety of mothers who are of a number of ethnicities and maintain a wide variety of diets (we switch donor milk each week to ensure we maintain a wide variety). For example: one of his milk mother’s maintains a vegan diet and is of Chinese descent; one is a Caucasian woman who calls herself “a Midwestern meat eater”; one is an African American woman who frequently declares her love of all types of ice cream; one is a woman who is first generation in the US and follows an Eastern Indian diet and is lactose intolerant; two of his milk mothers are Latino (their families are from Mexico and El Salvador); one of his milk mothers is in the Navy; one is pregnant with her second child and still overproducing milk for her first who is 18 months old; some have very young babies and some are weaning babies over two years old; and the list goes on.

Our doctor explained that mothers produce milk in response to their individual child’s needs. Meaning, they create antibodies against all types of colds, flus, etc. that their child has been exposed to. As such, Asa receives all of those antibodies too. Additionally, it’s more likely that he will have a wide range of tastes given his early wide palate of nutrition.

Is Breastmilk Sharing for You?

This path is certainly not for everyone. There are risks associated with this choice. It is certainly possible that a donor may not be truthful in her representation of her diet, health history or alcohol use. There are other options available to purchase breast milk. I have seen costs from $1.50 to $4 per ounce. Meaning, feeding our son would be upwards of $300 or more each week. That is simply not an option my family can personally afford. This path may also present too much of a logistical challenge to some families who are unable to drive all over to pick up milk-especially when working full time (which I am and it’s tough!).

However, I would recommend parents explore this option for many reasons. In addition to the exceptional health that my little boy has experienced as a result of this decision, there were also some unforeseen benefits for our family that I feel are very important:

  1. Working with other moms to feed Asa has led to many, many conversations with my teenagers about the value of humanity helping humanity. We have all been actively involved with this process and have grasped that this selfless act on the part of Asa’s milk mothers is literally changing his life for the better;
  2. This has normalized the process of breastfeeding for both my older children. I have not seen them look embarrassed around seeing a woman feeding her child since we began this process;
  3. I feel this could give my children an opportunity to consider breastfeeding as an option for children they may choose to love in their future (if they are able and decide this is the best option for their families later in life).
  4. I am building a network of friends who share this common value.

 

Overall, I feel this movement is representative of women supporting other women, other families, and other children. It’s not easy to make the commitment to pump milk for your child or someone else’s children. This takes an enormous time commitment and requires travel to provide life changing nutrition to others. I remain extremely grateful for all of the moms who have impacted my son’s life. If you or someone you know has breastmilk to share, please point them to the Human Milk 4 Human Babies site in their area so they may consider donating to a child in their community who needs breastmilk. Again, breastmilk sharing is available regardless of a child’s adoption history, medical, or any other specific need.

If you wish to learn more about this process and some varying opinions on this, I found this podcast interesting: “Milk Wanted

-Laura, Alex, Asa, Andrew and Ellie

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