Monday, August 08, 2011

A Modern Day Wet Nurse

By Sarah Christensen © 2011


“Would you like...” I heard myself asking a woman I had only met at a play-date twenty minutes prior, “me to breastfeed your baby?”

She looked at me uncertainly. Tears running down her face, the desperate cries of her hungry child piercing our conversation. Frustration and fear and I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE etched onto her face.

I reassured her that I was healthy and I disclosed my diet and medical history as it pertained to nursing a child. Someone beside me nodded, a mutual friend reassuring the woman that they’d known me for quite some time now and I was telling the truth. And she looked relieved - so relieved.

“Please,” she said desperately, placing her infant in my arms, “please, yes, please. Thank you so much.”
And THOSE, those were the words that changed my life.

I only nursed her son for a brief while. I squirted milk on his lips so that he would focus and when he smelled the milk, he lunged at my nipple and latched. I relaxed, felt my milk let down, and he sputtered as he hungrily gobbled it down. “It’s okay, little guy,” I said. When he had suckled enough to take the edge off his hunger and his mother had calmed down enough to feel confident trying again, I popped his latch and handed him back. This time, there were no tears. There was no panic, no crying, no frantic begging other moms for a bottle. “Place your nipple under his nose,” I told her, “and there you go!” Her child latched, she let down, and then she turned to me.

“Thank you, Sarah. I mean it. Thanks.” She looked at my daughter, who was barely old enough to sit on her own, and smiled kindly. “And thank you, Charlotte, for letting me borrow your momma for a little while.”

Although several other mothers at the play-date patted me on the back afterwards, a few days later they all met up for lunch to discuss the two of us. They did not invite either of us. Then they voted. I got the message via text message when I came home from an afternoon walk. I turned to my husband in utter disbelief. “I just got voted out of a mom group,” I said incredulously, “...because I nursed another woman’s baby.”

Nursing my daughter in public shortly after her second birthday.

Although that experience with the mom group was my first foray into informal milk-sharing, it was not my last. In fact, once I (and my nipples along with me) got sucked into informal milk-sharing, I never looked back. I have also been involved in formal donation to a bank that pasteurizes donors’ milk and distributes it to families in need. But to me, there is something unspeakably wonderful about informal milk-sharing. There is nothing like looking into a fellow parent’s eyes and KNOWING, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you have made a difference.

It’s an experience you just don’t have access to when your milk donation consists of a pump, a test tube, and a pre-paid mailer. I used to wonder: did the milk get there? Was it viable? Was it used? Did it help? But with another woman’s baby in my arms, I never wonder. I see the child suckling. I feel them relaxed and happy and warm against my body. I hear them swallow and watch as their eyelids become heavy and a sleepy, satisfied smile danced on their lips. I know that I helped.

Of course, informal milk-sharing is not limited to wet-nursing. During my pumping heyday, I had a neighbor who regularly mined my freezer for excess milk. After she mentioned once that her baby seemed to be having mild stomach upsets, I even started labeling my frozen bags of milk with the time of day (so she could keep the nucleotides and fat content straight) and whether I’d eaten dairy, gluten, spices, a new food, or common allergens in the two days prior. She was elated. “I just don’t get this sort of information from a milk bank,” she said. I may not have been present for every feeding, but I knew then too: I was helping. I knew that my milk was going to someone in need, knew that those hours I spent draining my breasts were truly appreciated. And the emotion attached was the same. The power to help another person, the ability to sustain the life of another child, is deliriously empowering no matter what the circumstances.

These are the communal experiences which have been peppered throughout my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter, who is now two years old and still nursing. Sometimes I wonder: how will I tell her about this when she is older? What will she think when I explain to her that I actively share milk because I believe that every parent has a fundamental right to provide human breastmilk for their child – at any age, for any reason? What questions will she have when she realizes that she has never seen another woman wet-nurse? If she one day becomes a parent, how will she view lactation and milk-sharing then?

With my nursling last week at the park. I think she’s cute.

As my being ousted from a mom group testifies, the truth is that while breastfeeding is touted for all of its health benefits and bonding superpowers, our society is still remarkably squeamish about sharing milk. I’m not sure why. After all, human breastmilk is human breastmilk regardless of whether the nipples involved are genetically related to the mouth that the milk flows into.

All I can hope is that my daughter is never thinks twice about one parent giving of their milk to another parent in need. And something tells me that as she grows up witnessing me sharing my milk and witnessing her father fully supporting this endeavor, she’ll be just fine.


Sarah Christensen is a mom who blogs about motherhood and daily life candidly, introspectively, and humorously at BecomingSarah.com. Christensen and her husband have one daughter, Charlotte, who is two years old and shows no signs of weaning. You can read her other breastfeeding posts cataloged here at Becoming Sarah.


Christensen's Related Links of Interest:

"Risks of Informal Breastmilk Sharing versus Formula Feeding" - PhD in Parenting

"Outsourcing Breast Milk" - Time Magazine

Breastmilk Donation Resource Page - DrMomma.org

Human Milk Banking and Other Donor Milk - KellyMom

Human Milk 4 Human Babies

Eats On Feets

MilkShare

Human Milk Banking Association of North America

World Milksharing Week


If you've provided for another baby as a wet nurse, or have utilized the gift of shared milk or wet nursing, and you'd like to tell your story to encourage others and raise awareness of milk sharing, write to us at DrMomma.org@gmail.com. We'd love to hear from you.

Breastfeeding Resources Page
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92 comments:

  1. beautiful story, but at the same time it angers me to read that she was voted out of a mom's group for giving another baby the best possible nutrition.
    As a mother who has nursed quite a few other babies during my 33 months of lactating, I can attest that there is nothing more gratifying than seeing and feeling the difference you're making. Two of the babies actually tandem nursed alongside my daughter and those experiences brought tears to my eyes. I felt like Mother Earth giving life to TWO children at once- one my own, and one a 3 month old foster child with a broken arm due to abuse and neglect.
    So here's to us modern day wet nurses- don't let the nay-sayers get you down!!!

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  2. Wait...the moms voted her OUT of the mom group? Are you kidding me? That doesn't sound like the kind of mom group she should want to be associated with anyway.

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  3. This is an amazing story. It is sad that the other members of the mother group didn't see the milk sharing as the sweet and helpful act that it was.

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  4. I'm more heartbroken by the comments from my sister-in-law, who has vocally claimed that she not only detests being pregnant and everything that comes along with it, but that breastfeeding is absolutely disgusting, it has always made her uncomfortable, and that she has no intention of ever attempting it because formula is likely better and doesn't involve her "giving up" any other aspect of her body.
    Still, to think that this poor woman - who undoubtedly suffered some before you reached out, and who no doubt felt abandoned and isolated when informed she was no longer welcome because she accepted the much-needed help of another woman - was booted because you reached out in kindness and offered to help when it was needed is beyond me. I am so sorry for you, that you were shunned, but always moreso for her, and further more for her baby, who is undoubtedly the true victim when things like this happen. I hope because of you she has felt as though she has the right to reach out when in need of help, and that she carries the beauty of your helping hand with her always.
    Milk sharing doesn't bother me in the least. If I were still lactating and my sister-in-law came to me and said she wanted to provide pumped milk but had no intention of doing it herself, damn straight I would agree without a second thought to pump - it is second-best but still far better than the alternative. I would gladly act as a wet nurse in whatever requested capacity for another, and I see nothing wrong with it - assuming that the mom providing is healthy and clean. If so, who cares? Why is breastfeeding another's baby so disgusting? Is it the milk, which is inherently identical excepting the nutrients that are specific to that mother and baby and their needs? That can't be the problem. Which means it's the idea of a woman willingly and knowingly allowing her child to suckle from another woman's breasts. It all comes back to the oversexualizing this society suffers from, instilling an inherent fear of our bodies and the bodies of others into the minds of our children and turning what should be an open act that can be shared amongst the community of moms into a shunned act that a dangerous number of individuals - parents and non-parents alike - fear and wish to criminalize.
    I look up to you so much, and am always proud of everything you do because you are a constant force in the world of parenting, and of providing a better future for our children than we had. It's part of the reason I follow you, and read your blog regularly - because you give me faith in the human race, and give me hope that despite our downfalls and current routines, things can and will be changed for the better. Thank you for that.

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    1. Wow. Beautiful article and beautiful reply. My daughter will be four in March and is still nursing. I wanted to nurse her until she was two years old, but never thought we'd go this long. I am mostly still glad she is still nursing and I know she will stop when she's ready. We talk about it and I can see that she not only benefits from the extra nutritional and immune support, but from the emotional comfort and closeness that nursing offers (as do I). I think nursing is a beautiful experience and I agree with the comments about the over-sexualization (and exposure to violence) had distorted our perceptions of what is healthy and loving and what is not. It is sad for our society that so many have been brainwashed with exposure to negativity, fear and cynicism.

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  5. Sarah,
    Thank you for what you've done, not only for your daughter, but the other children that have benefited from your milk. What a wonderful thing to do. I have a couple friends that have bf'd children that weren't their's and they talked about how good it made them feel to be able to help. It is something I can say that I would definitely do without hesitation if I could. I'm sorry the mom group voted you out...how sad for them to lose such a great member. Thank you for sharing your story!

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  6. Wonderful, beautiful story! One of the best friends nursed my second son when he was a couple days old and getting dehydrated from jaundice. I nursed my niece when she was a couple days old and needed to gain a bit of weight quickly to be released from the hospital, and I recently nursed the second son of the same friend who did it for me for similar reasons. It makes us all feel closer to each other and each other's children.

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  7. What a shallow bunch of women. Looking back, I would bet she's glad to not have to associate with those women, now that she knows who they really are.

    I was able to share some of my pumped milk with a friend who encountered a lot of pain and rawness during her first couple weeks of breastfeeding. This lead to a low milk supply and her having to pump in order to maintain production while she healed. By the end of some days, she needed a few ounces to provide for her baby through the night. I received a call one night at 11:00. It was such a priviledge to help her new family through a rough time. She was able to heal, train her baby how to latch properly and breastfeed her child until she chose to wean. I was so happy to be able to encourage and help in a way helped her to choose to push through and maintain committed to breastfeeding.

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  8. Love this story. What a cool mom. She can be in my group!!

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  9. Danielle NethertonAugust 08, 2011 5:31 PM

    That group of women who voted you out are ignorant and childish. Reminds me of junior high recess. I'm glad you can share with others in need. You are providing the most beneficial food known for human consumption. Bravo! You rock! And, I admire you!

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  10. lessonsinlifeandlight: Exactly!!! I'd not want to be associated with those kinds of moms.

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  11. Beautiful. I wish our modern day society wasn't so "modern" and could accept the gift of one mother helping another.

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  12. This was beautiful. When I was a baby, my mom was part of a community milk-sharing effort in Japan (where we were living at the time). The baby couldn't nurse for whatever reason, but couldn't tolerate formula. Breastfeeding mothers at the American school were asked to donate milk, and everyday when these mothers (including mine) dropped off their kids, they dropped off a bottle of their own expressed milk. I'm sure this must have made a HUGE difference in that mother's life, and I'm proud that my mom was part of that effort. I would LOVE to see this become the norm.

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  13. I love that you continued on despite the actions of the ignorant moms that ousted you. I take medications for Lupus, but am still able to nurse my thriving baby. I connected with a woman online a few months back who was looking for milk. I shared my health history and my meds with her, she checked with her doc, and agreed to accept my donation. We exchanged emails that week, talked about teething solutions, compared parenting stories, etc. I had never stored milk before (I only work a few hours a week, so I only leave 2 bottles.) I pumped like a maniac for a week in order to hand over a few dozen ounces. When I stepped out of my car I could see the total shock on her face - because I'm black. She could barely put a sentence together. I emailed her asking when she wanted to meet up again and have never heard from her since.

    It really broke my heart at first. I tried to believe there was any other reason that she wouldn't want my milk, but I think she would've at least responded to my email. If I'm ever able to find another mom who's in need I will gladly donate again. I just hope she was able to find another donor for her son. Oh well.

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    1. I am so sorry that you had to go through that. People can be so hateful sometimes when you least expect it.

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  14. To be fair, guys, it is REMARKABLY easy to leave a mom group in the dust when they vote you out. It seems like the end of the world for a day or two - you worry about where you'll find new friends, and what is wrong with you, and how could they be so cruel - but eventually you realize that it probably wouldn't have lasted long anyway. I'd known the other women in that group since I was pregnant and we didn't have much in common. I'm sure if it weren't wet-nursing that got me the boot, it would have been something else. And in the end, not being a part of that group opened me up to find some of the lovely natural parenting and attachment parenting groups that I've found since. Now that I'm surrounded by mothers who are supportive and who parent similarly to me, I think sometimes that being ousted from the first group was a blessing in disguise. It freed me up to find these other mothers, all of whom have challenged me and taught me and made me a better person and mother myself.

    KAS - As an update on the other mom - she has a son who is five months younger than my daughter and he is, at 19 months, still breastfed. She powered through and we are still in touch. I asked for her permission before I wrote this story and she thought it was a good idea - she thought people should know that stuff like this happens. Maybe with time we can all move past our fears of the unfamiliar and rise above peer pressure, but in the meantime there are mothers somewhere who are being alienated from their lifeline and that doesn't seem right at all.

    Danielle Netherton - That's what I said when it happened!! It was like being in high school with cliques again. I mean, REALLY? REALLY?! They held a vote and VOTED US OUT? Who does that?!

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  15. The held a vote and let you know via text that you were ousted?

    I think you're lucky to have been relieved of that group - we are NOT in high school anymore, ladies! ;P

    That said, I would absolutely in a heartbeat do exactly what you did, and I commend you for it. That one moment, those few gulps of human milk, it meant the WORLD to that baby and that mama. You changed the whole feeling of that nursing session - from frantic "I can't do this! What is wrong with me!" to "My baby is OK and I can do this"

    Awesome. Obviously not widely accepted in our society. . . but AWESOME. Thank you for sharing this story!

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  16. My mom told me a story about when I was 1 month old. It was winter. The neighbor from across the street had many children, including a newborn as well. The father was an alcoholic, drinking away their money for necessities like food . The neighbor had run out of formula (she was too malnourished to produce breastmilk). She came to our house through the snow and knocked on our door. When my mother answered it, the woman was sobbing with her baby in her arms. The baby girl hadn't eaten in hours and was wailing from hunger. My mom brought them both in and offered this baby her milk. The baby drank hungrily for almost an hour. Drained both breasts. Then fell asleep.

    Relieved, the neighbor took her baby home. I don't know what happened after that, but I'm glad I have such a wonderful mother.

    I'm 27 now and have a five year old. He nursed until he weaned himself at two years. During his weaning stage I babysat a formula fed baby often. When she cried my milk would let down. I longed to feed her, but didn't have the courage to ask her mother. GOOD for this awesome mama who helped another human being out of the goodness of her breast.

    As for the group that kicked her out... It was most likely one or two women who had pull with the others. The type who tell you to cover up in public. A shame. She doesn't need them.

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  17. We use donor milk for our daughter to supplement my supply, either expressed or wet nursed. The first time one of our milk mumma's offered to wet nurse it felt weird, but good and we did it publicly at a Breastfeeding Association meeting. Since then, she has been wet nursed in other public places, and the most gorgeous photo I have is of our milk mumma's daughter sharing her mum - they both fed at the same time. It is not common in South Australia, but we are open about what we do and the messages of support I've received from people like my hairdresser, or an auntie who is a nurse in a government hospital (our government does not support it) have demonstrated that their is an undercurrent of support if you just explain why, and that makes me feel hopeful for the future. I am public about what we do in the hope that it will become more common, and an option for others in our society.

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  18. Awesome story!!! Screw that Mom's group!

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  19. I wished I lived near someone like you when I adopted my little boy. We were able to afford one month of milk from a bank but then no more. I put up ads in our area and no one responded. I even asked people in my church that had babies but everyone thought it was a strange request. In my area breastfeeding isn't looked down on but I guess donating it is.

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  20. Dawn - Your comment broke my heart! I am so sorry that you had to go through that. As much as I believe that milk-sharing should be more widely accepted in every form, I believe much more fiercely that people should be accepted in every form. It's really her loss that she isn't able to embrace the ways in which you two might be different and I hope against hope that someday soon stories like yours are a thing of the past. If it's any consolation, I would happily take your milk if I were in need =)

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  21. To Dawn and the last Anon who adopted and couldn't find anyone to nurse your baby... My heart cried reading both your comments. What amazing mothers and women you both must be. Too bad you each didn't live next door to each other! ;) Much love to you both.

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  22. Cyrstal - what a beautiful story from your mom. I would just love to help someone else out in need like that. I hope the neighbor's story had a happy ending. Give your mom a hug from me. =) And if you hear more, come back to tell us!

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  23. What a great post Sarah.

    When my son was unable to latch, I wished so much that I could try nursing someone else's baby and/or that someone else could try nursing my baby. I didn't know whether the problem lay with me or with him. I didn't know what a good latch felt like. I wish that it was more acceptable because I think it would be a huge help to many moms trying to overcome those initial hurdles.

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    1. I completely understand. None of my children had gentle latches and I probably would have thought it was me, except that I nursed somebody else's toddler when my first was a newborn. Despite a mouthful of teeth, she was the gentlest of the five.

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  24. Crystal - What a beautiful story!!

    Anonymous 12:11 - What a shame that milk sharing is ever thought to be odd. My husband and I just found out we're expecting, so we've put our adoption plans on hold until this baby turns one, but one of the first things I plan on doing when we're ready to accept a match is arranging with friends who are still nursing to have them express milk if I have trouble establishing lactation with an adopted child. I don't even want to think of the stress of trying to reach out and being turned down. Your baby is so lucky to have a momma who would make that effort - I don't think most would.

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  25. I think this story is beautiful. I would love to have you in my Mom's Group! I am the only Mom who nursed my little guy beyond a month or two (he is 1 year old today, and we are still going strong), so it does make it difficult to find common ground. We have a long way to go to make breastfeeding more culturally and socially acceptable!

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  26. WOW! I cannot believe that you were voted out. My jaw dropped.

    My hope is that my 10 month old son will grow up with a knowledge and understanding that breast milk is best, breastfeeding in public is totally normal, and that breast milk is something every baby should have access to - no matter how they get it.

    Good for you for doing this. You are setting a great example for all of us.

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  27. It's been amazing to me, that as a nursing mom, I was in the minority of moms I knew! So many moms are turned off by the idea of breastfeeding. It is such a beautiful bond to have with your baby, but it's not always the easiest option, or possible at all for some moms. It's great to know that there are moms out there that are willing to help in this way to give mom and baby the help and nutrition they need!

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  28. We adopted our daughter and I was unable to induce, but she received about 5-6 months worth of breast milk donated to me by other mama's. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to them. Your post gave me chills...because it does mean so much to the mama's/babies in need of BM!

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  29. what an amazing story! we drink cows breastmilk that is laden with antibiotics and hormones but its taboo to drink human breastmilk from a healthy breastfeeding mom? makes no sense. My SIL and I both had our babies 2 months apart. She wanted me to watch her son for awhile and was going to leave me formula. I told her to keep her formula I could just bf him. She insisted that he would NEVER latch. I got that boy latched and eating in a matter of seconds. She was less than thrilled and has never left me alone with him again :0(

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  30. Sharing breastmilk is gross? You should ask all those moms if they drink cow milk (which they may or may not be sharing with a calf) and if so do they know the cow personally? If not, they are drinking cow milk from a stranger? Is that gross? Humans are soooooo strange. Good for you for nursing that hungry baby. I've done the same myself and wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

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  31. In an ideal world, formula would never have been invented, we would all breastfeed, or use wet nurses, or use milk banks, and SAHM could make some nice income by selling their milk - and most likely, the healthier your diet, the more valuable your milk. :) And this would be considered normal, and no one would think anything of it.

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  32. Dawn - Your story made me cry. I am so sorry there are so many ugly people in this world. What you did - offering to share your milk with a stranger - was beautiful.

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  33. It makes me smile to think of other women who are still open to the "wet-nurse" idea or sharing milk. I have 300oz of frozen milk from when I was pumping, and my daughter is now 12 months and eating table food. I'm trying to find someone who can take the milk and use it for a preemie or adopted child. If I were in a position where I couldn't nurse, I would be more than willing to take BM from another mom above feeding formula.

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  34. What an unexpected and amazing story.

    I think my friends would look at me like I had 2 heads if I offered to share milk. Horrified though that you'd be shut out of a mom's group. Sounds like a bunch of mean girls to me.

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  35. Brilliant post. Who knew that wet nursing could be so taboo now, when it was once the norm? It's formula milk that creeps me out! Zion
    http://mammasforvictory.blogspot.com/

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  36. I recently wrote about my experience with informal milk sharing too.

    http://www.kveller.com/blog/parenting/other-womens-babies-drink-my-milk/

    perhaps that Mama group wasn't one that you wanted to be part of anyway ;)

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  37. A friend of mine's wife had her baby prematurely and her milk was slow coming in. Our friend asked me quite hesitantly if I could spare any of my milk. I responded immediately with "bottle or straight from the tap?".

    The baby was having problems latching so we decided bottle would be easier but I would not have hesitated at all to nurse the newborn and brought over enough frozen milk for the next few days- her milk thankfully came in on the 5th day and now they're both doing great!

    I've also donated quite a bit to a milk bank but now that my baby is turning one (the age limit for this milk bank), I'm looking into private donation again. I was going to offer to my cousin who has a medically needy toddler but I have no idea how to bring it up....

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  38. I can't believe those women kicked you out of the mom's group. That is truly disgusting. I have a hard time pumping but wanted to offer milk on a milksharing page, so I volunteered to wet-nurse. I didn't get any takers. As long as the mother and I were both comfortable with the idea, I didn't see a problem with it. Kudos to you for having the courage to try, and poo on them for being so close minded.

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  39. I read this and thought I would share my little story too.

    I was looking after a friend's baby last week, she is 5 months old. This was the first time anyone had looked after bub so mum left me with a bottle of her EBM. We had a chat about what would happen if bub wanted more than what she gave me, I offered to breastfeed her if need be and mum was totally happy and even relieved by the idea. About an hour after mum left, bub got unsettled and upset. I offered her the bottle but she didn't know what to do with it, I squirted some of the milk but she was not interested at all. She became hysterical so i offered her a boob which she took. Her eyes rolled back in and she appeared very hungry, after a few minutes she fell asleep.

    Well, that was my experience wet nursing, I was surprised by how comfortable I felt with it and it felt like I was feeding my own (who is 11 months old).

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  40. Amy H - I haven't donated to the milk bank since my daughter's first birthday, but thanks for mentioning that you 'aged out' of your milk bank's system. I'm going to look into it around here and see if our banks have age limits like that. That would be good to know!

    Andrea - That's how I felt too. I expected it to be weird, but ultimately nursing someone else's baby feels different - they suckle differently - but also feels reassuringly the same =)

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  41. A few years ago, when my daughter was born, I made a habit of pumping once a day in the morning. After a while my freezer was getting full and I said something to my best friend. She said how she was never able to pump, even after she'd borrowed my pump. Her son wouldn't eat at all until she came home with formula. So I did what name natural and offered some frozen milk to her. She was very excited and her husband and baby were very happy with this situation. No more was her son(a few month younger than my daughter) upset and hungry when she left and he was still getting breastmilk. I was very happy to help out and proud that I had enough to help someone else. She eventually emptied out my freezer right around the time he weaned. Worked out perfectly and everyone was happier for it. Than you for your story! I have felt that pull as well, I wish more people were open to the option!

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  42. Wow, voted out of a mom's group! I can't stand mommy cliques. I hated cliques when I was in high school and still hate cliques now.

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  43. Human milk 4 human babies...I believe each state has a site that posts 'needs' and 'haves'...it's a great way to match resources with those in need.

    You all are beautiful. :)

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  44. Interesting viewpoint. Nursing was easy for me, and I continued it even while I worked, until Miss L was 15 months old. I did know a few women who could not breastfeed, and they always chose formula. This is a new perspective for me. But as for the playgroup--how is it any of their business?! Do they have a no NIP rule?

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  45. What a beautiful story! If only more mothers, who struggle with breastfeeding, were comfortable sharing milk. So many babies are fed formula, and it seems unnecessary.

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  46. You are an amazing mother. Love this post. I love the nursing. My aunt has a daughter with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) and every time I had a baby (I have 4 kids) I would pump the milk so she could put it in her daughters feeding tube bag. My cousin, who is now 12, always benefited from human milk. She cannot drink dairy because it would cause phloem in the back of her throat that she choked on and goat milk is expensive unless you have your own goats (which they do for when I am not lactating).
    You could see big results with the breast milk. When my cousin would get sick, she would be sick for a considerably less amount of time when she was on breast milk than on the goat milk.
    Thank you again for the article...who knows maybe someday society will once again see it how it was back in the day before formula.

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  47. That is so great. I can nurse my baby but cannot pump so my sister is giving me some of her pumped milk so I can go to dr. apptments, etc. and leave my little guy with some food. I know a lot of people are saying too bad you got voted out. But if you hadn't, then people like me wouldn't feel angry, and we wouldn't want to spread the word about breastfeeding, so it probably is a good thing you got voted out because it motivates me to be a little more open verbally with others about the importance of breastfeeding and the normalness of milk sharing. Thank you so much for sharing your story! And who needs those mamas, sounds like you may not have had all that much in common down the road.

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  48. Oh, I've shared many times--especially since my cultural norms were shattered by living in Mongolia! (I know you've blogged about that before!)

    I recently blogged about my breastfeeding journey and the cultural confrontations here:

    http://gombojavfamily.blogspot.com/2011/08/breastfeeding-cultural-confrontations.html

    Not only have I shared my milk with other babies, but with other adults. Who knew it was so good for your liver? :-)

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  49. Jessica - I think it's a good thing I got voted out because it made me think - REALLY THINK - about what mattered to me as a parent and what qualities I was looking for in friends for both myself and my daughter. I still think it's awful that anyone gets voted out of a mom group - abhorrent, really - and I shudder to think at the consequences that might have on a lonely mother, but getting kicked out was the best thing that could have happened to me as a parent activist!

    Gombojav - Awesome!!

    NoDramaMama - They did not have a no-NIP rule. My understanding at the time was that we just made them uncomfortable. Some of the other women had older children and I heard through the grapevine that those mothers spurred on the get-together, but that's hearsay.

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  50. I think our society is so backwards-- people are breastfeeding-phobic, when really, it is the best thing for a baby (even if it isn't yours). I feel bad for both moms being kicked out of the play grp, that really sucks! Shame on those other moms! My son was having problems latching on so my sister-in-law tried to nurse him, too--it didn't really work, but that was ok....at least I knew it wasn't my fault (not his, either, but you know how we moms tend to blame ourselves for everything). Anyway, I went to full-time pumping & he had virtually nothing but breastmilk the first year of his life. I am 100% pro-breastfeeding any time, any place, in front of anybody! Keep up the good work, Sarah!!

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  51. Just wanted to post a note to thank you for your beautiful, generous heart... And for sharing your story.

    Like little girls not even seeing breastfeeding, so thinking it's "weird", this is another dimension that we need to (re-)normalize in our culture.

    I've never had the opportunity, partially since I've never been able to get anywhere with pumping for some reason, even though I've been nursing my own for about 10 years now in total... But I would if given half a chance!

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  52. A friend of mine shared a similar story--she was watching a friend's infant, and mom was taking a lot longer than expected at her appointment (she had left no milk, as it was supposed to be a quick 30 minute appointment). He became hungry to the point of screaming, so my friend tried comfort-nursing. She knew the baby was breastfed, and even though she hadn't fed a baby in almost a year, she figured comfort was better than nothing. Lo and behold, she felt herself begin to lactate. Not much, but enough to take the edge off his screaming.

    When mom returned, she apologized profusely and when my friend explained what happened, the mom looked at her like she had two heads. At first my friend was afraid this mom would be angry, but then the mom got tears in her eyes and said "you did that for him?..." It was such a shock that anyone would even think to do such a thing, and she was immensely grateful. It is kind of sad that it shocked her so much...shows a lot about our culture, just as the booting of this woman out of a mom's group for aiding another mother in her time of need.

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  53. I nursed my best friend's baby to sleep one day when she was busy teaching a class to our homeschool group. It was so nice to be able to help her baby take her nap, and help my friend be at peace knowing her child was cared for. And my baby has been nursed by my friends when I was teaching that same class :D I was amazed at the gut feelings of jealousy I felt when I saw my friend nursing my baby, but I was glad my baby was being fed and loved!
    I've donated milk for babies in need when I was on a dairy-free diet, and the feeling of providing for those sweet babies was just so awesome. One baby was adopted and allergic both to all formulas and to dairy, so he HAD to have breastmilk from dairy-free women.
    I love nursing my 2-year-old. I can't imagine parenting without it; well, I can, b/c sometimes I don't want to nurse her and she's having a hard day and I think, "Which is worse, nursing her or listening to her scream all day?" and I always choose nursing her!

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  54. I'm a nanny to 3 little boys. the 3-month old is formula fed now in preparation for mom going back to work (long story, pumping not working :( ) and whenever he cries I just want to nurse him and when I'm holding him he nuzzles at my breast and I feel so bad that I can't let him suckle for comfort. I've mentioned it in passing to the mom, but nothing came of it. Well done to you for offering. I've always been fascinated by wet-nursing and would LOVE to be able to help someone in that way.

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  55. How wonderful of you. I've pumped and donated and would totally wet nurse but I live in the country so all the momma's and babies' in need are too far :(

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  56. Go you! That's awesome! :-)

    Your article touched on one of my fears though - finding mom-friends with similar values. Hopefully there are a few other milk-sharing (and in my case home birthing, cloth diapering, super granola) play group exhiles out there willing to be supportive of one another!

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  57. What a wonderful thing to do! My mother did the same for her sisters/friends' babies when she was breast-feeding me & my siblings (and I have also been suckled by other mothers in her circle). She had more than enough supply so she never minded sharing her breast milk freely to satisfy crying babies. I'm so proud of her sharing nature and plan to do the same when my baby is born in a couple months!

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  58. Sara,

    You are a very kind person and I enjoyed reading your story. My wife nursed both of our children until 2 1/2 years each. Both kids turned out great! No alergies, good overall health and all around good, smart, healthy kids! Mother's milk is truly a blessing from god! There must be some very good reasons why mothers produce milk for their babies and others as well. Thank you Sarah for your kind and unselfish ways, and thank you to all the mom's out there!

    Chris

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  59. Loved this!

    I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by a rather large attachment parenting group. When our babies were new and one of us needed a sitter, lactating was a requirement for that sitter! It was nice to know that I could go to a doctors appointment and be gone foe 2 hours and if my baby needed to nurse, her sitter would nurse her!

    Also, I was very very milky after the birth of my daughter and I pumped religiously. Nursing went so well I found that I had no use for the pumped milk, so I gave it to a friend whose son had been having ear infections so had he had even been tested for menengitis once. She greatfully used my milk to feed her son and never had another infection. I can also say that that was way before I had heard of milk sharing! It makes me feel proud to have helped her and her son!

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    1. Your group sounds awesome! The mom group I am a part of now doesn't have that requirement, but I recently put out there that I might need a sitter for a couple hours while I attend the birth of another momma in the group as her photographer. I was able to find a sitter and a back-up who would wet-nurse my baby (1.5 months) if need be!

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  60. Wonderful story! Let's spread the word about wet-nursing and help people realize that it is a normal beautiful thing. I am pregnant now with my # 2 and looking forward to breastfeeding again. If I can find a baby/momma in need, I would be a wet nurse too! I would love for you to be in my moms group!

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  61. Wow reading this article brought tears to my eyes and reading the comments kept triggering my letdown reflex.

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  62. My child is 5yrs old and has been weaned since he was 2. I have always continued to lactate small amounts since. I have a extensive family history of breast cancer along with other forms of cancer. My Natural Path told me it would be beneficial to re-induce lactation. She gave me herbs to help the process along. Im not confortable with breastfeeding my son again for fear of confusion on his part as well societies views on older breastfeeding children. What should I do?

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    1. If you're going to induce lactation for your health but not nurse, I would look into donating the milk (pumping) to babies who really need it. You can find them via Human Milk 4 Human Babies (www.HM4HB.org) and Eats on Feets (www.EatsOnFeets.org) or just by offering to your local midwifery, homebirth and lactation groups. There may even be mommas around who need a wet nurse here and there to take care of their baby...

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  63. I also still produce milk my Dr. say 10% of women will after they children are weaned. Sometimes it can be painful and donating milk my be a good solution. I have often thought what a wonderful gift though.

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  64. Wow- its been almost a year since you posted this, and its still having an impact. A distant cousin of my husband (we prefer to be close friends than distant relatives) just had a baby and his wife has been struggling with her supply. Her daughter had jaundice and had to be supplemented to pass the bilirubin and get to go home (after 5 days!). I knew she was a little "weird" because when she was pregnant, we bonded at a family function over cloth diapering. I assaulted her with information when I found out she wanted to cloth diaper but wasn't because of peer pressure. We shared our "weird" parenting ideas, everything from co sleeping to nursing to babywearing, and became friends. She texted me frantically last week saying that her baby hadn't pooped in 2 days and she was vomiting up all the formula. Tentatively, I asked if she wanted me to bring her the milk in my freezer. My 8 month old just started weaning to solids and sleeping through the night, and while he is still breastfed, my oversupply gets painful, so I express. But I almost never have occasion to bottle feed him. She excitedly accepted. I strutted around my house like a mother hen for the rest of the day.

    Several days later she texted me again, obviously in tears, saying that her daughter had eaten through all my milk, had formula for two days, and stopped pooping and started vomiting again. Her daughter also hasn't regained her birth weight yet (almost 3 1/2 weeks old). She then offered to pay me if I would continue to send her frozen milk (we live too far apart to cross nurse). I started to cry. I told her that of course I would do anything for her sweet perfect little girl if it would help (and we wouldn't accept payment of any kind!! haha). She has a few other friends who are also pitching in, so hopefully between the 4 of us, that special little baby will get fat little thighs! :-)

    I feel like the luckiest woman alive because I get to help two babies be healthy and happy, and I am so proud of my friend for having the courage to ask and to continue the struggle to feed her baby breast milk, whether it is from her or from another mommy. Both of us were so afraid to ask the other about helping out because of notions our culture has about personal space, appropriateness, hygiene, or something ludicrous like that. And I have to admit, when I first heard about modern wet nursing I thought it was weird. But when I asked myself WHY I thought it was weird, I couldn't come up with an answer. And now I am doing it in one form! If my opinions can change, so can others. We just have to get the word out!

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    1. Jennifer, right now this is the same way that I'm informally milk sharing - I just had my second baby a month and a half ago and my supply finally evened out in the last two weeks (give or take) so I've just started expressing milk to provide to a local woman with breast cancer who can't nurse her baby. Her daughter is only a month older than my daughter and several women from my mom group are expressing for her baby together. I cannot wait to bring my milk to the next milk drive; there is nothing like the feeling of helping out. I genuinely hope that your milk and the other mommas' milk helps your friend's baby grow and thrive!!

      * As well, I should clarify that my mom group is NOT the same one that voted me out. I have a different mom group now and they would NEVER vote someone out like that, especially not for milk sharing =) I'm actually scheduled to attend someone's birth soon and may have to leave my children with one of them for a couple hours and I was able to ask if it would be possible to wet-nurse my baby if she were hungry during that time. The other momma said yes, absolutely =) That's the sort of mom group worth staying in!

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  65. Hello and Thank you! Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is beautiful. My story is somewhat complicated. I am gender-queer. Since I was about 8 years old or so, I've wanted to be "a boy. " So, when in high school my breasts started to grow, I wasn't pleased about that. And unfortunately they grew quite large (about a size D), to the point where even a non-transgender person might be uncomfortable--especially a thin person with a small build. So when I finally could, in my twenties, when I'd saved up enough money I got what i cal a "major breast reduction surgery" --aka "ftm top surgery". That is the only "transitioning" I did or seriously considered. Now, i am in my 30s and thinking about having a baby. I am sad that I can not breast feed my baby. I worry about what I will do. What are my options? I mourn the loss of that ability which many take for granted. I have so much regret and there is the feeling of guilt too. But then I imagine meeting some kind-hearted, healthy, progressive-minded mama such as yourself who could find the empathy and compassion to help someone like me and their baby. It brings tears to my eyes to see this sharing and giving spirit. And makes me think of that saying "It takes a whole village to raise a child." Ain't that the truth? Bless your heart.

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    1. Anon, look into an 'SNS' I believe is what its called. Its a pouch that holds donated milk with a tube that loops around to your nipple. There was a wonderful article about a father (also gender-queer/transition) feeding his child in this manner. <3

      Here is one article, in the first picture, you can actually see the tubing atop his child's head.
      http://www.parenting.com/blogs/natural-parenting/taylor-newman/breastfeeding-dad-barred-leading-la-leche-league-groups-fair

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  66. I had a “friend” who would regularly leave her two children (one 1 1/2 year old, and a 6 week old preemie) at my house so that her and her husband could go party for between 8 hours and (longest time) two full days. She never left enough formula for her preemie, but I had a 1 y/o who had just self-weaned. So I would pop the preemie on and feed her that way. That baby gained enough weight to get healthy from my feedings. The 1 1/2 year old was also small, and was never fed anything but junk food and snacks... so I'd been offering him my EBM in a cup. He started gaining weight, as well. The last time I saw them, their mom yelled at me for feeding her baby. Because she was the only one who was “allowed” to feed them. There was a yelling match… and she stormed out. Less than 2 weeks later, I got a call from CPS. That pretty baby had ended up at the local children’s hospital because she’d been starved. They kids ended up going to their paternal grandparents… and the parents went to jail. The CPS worker said that I may have saved those children’s lives by wet-nursing them.

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    1. Oh my goodness, Autumn, I am so proud of you for doing what was right for those children. It hurts my heart to think that those children could have died without your milk =( The world needs more men and women willing to take action when the need arises - whatever shape that action is.

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  67. "our society is still remarkably squeamish about sharing milk."

    And yet, we gladly shove man-made "milk" and cow's milk into our babies. We share COWs milk and we are squeamish about milk sharing? hrm.

    Bless you and the other mother. When you are alone, breastfeeding is very difficult. Shame on those other mothers for not realizing the blessing that they had with such a strong woman willing to protect another mother's child.

    I hope the two of you (and your children!) are doing well this year!

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  68. I enjoyed the story and appreciated the moms however, I have a few questions. Is it possible for any diseases to be transmitted via breast milk-I am thinking of HIV and perhaps others?? Also isn't mom's lifestyle important? Especially diet and drug use-both legal and illegal. If a mom does not have a near perfect lifestyle and diet is it still a good idea to share breast milk? These issues especially concern me with informal milk sharing. I am not criticizing just respectfully questioning-having some trouble figuring out how to post this. I don't want to be anonymous. My name is Karen Spivak and I am on Facebook.

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    1. No it is not possible to transmit HIV or disease through human breast milk. Breast Milk does however provide enormously beneficial immunities from antibodies to ward off bacterial and viral illness.
      Anon. Registered Nurse

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    2. http://kellymom.com/blog-post/milk-bank-faq-pasteurization/

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    3. Also, here are some other links. http://kellymom.com/nutrition/milk/donor-milk/

      In the end,I think that cross nursing or donor milk is better than formula, but you need to use a little common sense when you choose where to get your breastmilk.

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    4. Yes, HIV and Hepatitis can be passed through breast milk, so I think it is important to ask those questions. When I donated to a milk bank they asked about those, drug use (including fenugreek, caffeine, etc), and for a blood test. I think in any situation you would have to make the best choice for you and your family.

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    5. My understanding is that yes, HIV and Hepatitis can be passed through milk. I think milk banks pasteurize to eliminate this concern. Additionally, although women who are nutritionally compromised produce excellent milk, it's never a bad idea to eat well and lead a healthy life. When you're healthy, your milk will be too.

      As I stated in my post, I disclosed to the other mother everything I could think of that was pertinent. It wasn't a perfect system, but informal milk sharing rarely is.

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  69. What a sweet thing it was for you to do for that other mother and baby. Shame on the other mothers for voting you out. Motherhood is seems to be such a competition, such a rat race. If we'd all just learn to slow down, love and support one another, being a mom would be a whole lot easier.

    One of my nieces was born six weeks after my second child. I never nursed her, but I shared pumped milk since her mom didn't have the best supply.

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  70. oh how I wish I'd known a woman like you when my girls were babies! It's a sad statement on our society that the other women voted you out. You are amazing. Thank you.

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  71. I emailed you, as per your request, but am cc'ing here as well.

    Back in 1998, I was involved with Amway. When my daughter was 6 weeks old or so, there was a weekend long training conference. The official policy was that infants were not permitted at their conferences, but my "leg" was more flexible. I wore her to the sessions the first day, but by the late afternoon, both she and I w ere exhausted, so I planned to stay in the hotel for the evening session.

    After dinner, she and I walked down to the room where a few teenagers had been hired to babysit for the team's children. I figured I'd hang out for a bit since I had no better place to be. I found myself talking to a mother of a 13 month old who somehow came to the conclusion that I was part of the babysitting crew. Recognizing the relief in her eyes when she saw an adult and being somewhat spineless, I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was just hanging out and resigned to spending the evening there.

    I asked her about her toddler's bedtime routine and her face fell. She had no idea how I should put her baby to sleep, since she just nursed her baby to sleep. I made some suggestions, adding that I assumed she didn't want me to nurse the baby to sleep myself. On those words, her face lit up again. I would do that for her baby?!? Of course!!

    At bedtime, I pulled the toddler into my lap and offered to nurse her. She seemed confused at first, but I expected that. I was a heavy fair skinned woman who had huge breasts and smelled unfamiliar, whereas Mom was a petite dark skinned Asian Indian women with small breasts. She figured it out pretty quickly, though, and passed out nearly instantly.

    It was a learning experience for me, too. As the mother of a newborn baby, I had been intimidated by the set of teeth in this toddler's mouth. I quickly discovered that her latch was far more gentle than my own baby's. I lost any fear of teeth in a moment, which came in handy later as each of my own kids passed through their toddler years.

    When the mother came back, she seriously informed me that her daughter and mine were now "milk siblings" and that my children and hers could never marry. I hadn't considered any long term consequences to the spontaneous offer, but it touches me that my four have a sister or siblings elsewhere. It's unlikely to happen, but if any of my kids brings home an Asian Indian girlfriend around that age, I'll be sure to check with their family to be sure it's not them.

    Later on in her infancy, I asked a friend to babysit for me. After a slightly awkward conversation, she admitted that she wasn't comfortable bottle feeding and asked if it would be okay to nurse her instead. I had been thinking something similar, but hadn't figured out a way to phrase the request to nurse my baby yet. It ended up not happening, but I would have preferred for friends to nurse any of my kids to offering them bottles, even if it was expressed milk. Other than that, I've offered to pump milk for friends but each time it has ended up being unnecessary.

    I have one more anecdote to share. An older friend (76) was babysitting for her second grandson (now in his 30's) while his parents were busy. The young baby was inconsolable and she was desperate to get him to sleep. She said "I just had one trick left up my sleeve" and latched him onto her long, long dry breast. Didn't matter that there was nothing there, he finally slept. Mama's magic is strong stuff.

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  72. It's a good thing people aren't so squeamish about sharing blood.

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  73. I am so proud of Sarah for being such a Goddess and doing what her heart told her to do! I would probably do the same thing. I had a very hard time learning how to get a good latch. Wound up with nipple blisters and cried for a week...and the baby always seemed slightly frantic and hungry. Then my midwife sat with me and showed me step by step what to do and it WORKED!!!! It was so empowering. We are still nursing at 22 months and intend to keep going until it feels like the right time to stop.

    Mother Nature gave us the gift of being able to provide natural nutrition for our babies - I think we all need to consider utilizing it...and even if you don't want to nurse...PUMP!!! Give the baby a chance to receive the best possible start. It's not fair for us to take that away from them.

    Blessings to all.

    Love.

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  74. Wow, thank you for sharing. I'm in the UK where only something like 1% of babies are breastfed up to six months. The government don't collect data past that so no one knows how many babies are even fed up to a year. The saddest thing is that our local health authority won't pay the £1000 needed to set up a regulated milk bank despite having a state midwife willing to set it all up and an army of mums ready to pump! As a result, the only option in this region is formula when there are issues with breastfeeding. I go to a lovely breastfeeding support group where we've discussed how we'd like to provide milk for other people's babies but don't know where to begin. Personally, I would love to wet-nurse... The thought of feeding another woman's child is beautiful to me. I feel very lucky right now as I have to return to work part-time in the spring (which I'm dreading) but the friend who will be caring for my baby has offered to wet nurse as she is still feeding her 16 month old. I'm not sure yet whether to pump or just wait until we reunite in the evenings, or whether to take her up on her offer. It's great to have the choice :)

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  75. I met a lady on facebook when we were both arguing with a jerk over a controversial subject (we were on the same side). She friended me, I found out she was local. We hung out several times and she asked me to babysit. Since she had a VERY small guy (around two months) I wasn't sure how she was planning for me to feed him. We both hemmed and hawed over it until finally I was just like "Do you have bottles and pumped milk or do you just want me to nurse him?" (this is what I felt/knew she wanted but was too worried to ask). We agreed that I would nurse him. (or was it her husband who finally asked me? I don't remember lol!). Regardless... I have been babysitting/nursing him since October when Momma has things to do. :) I tandem nurse him alongside my three year old (turned three in Nov). My son has NO issues sharing and I love it :) It is a relief to her too because his virgin gut was protected and his latch was not compromised through bottle use. :) <3

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  76. When I had to resume working when my daughter was 4 weeks old, my older sister, who was nursing her 1 yr. old, kept my baby. I had been diligently pumping milk to prepare for this event. However, my daughter refused to take the bottle! She was so upset and hungry. My sister was frantic that she couldn't calm her. Finally, in a moment of desperation, my sister nursed my child. When I arrived that afternoon, my sister was nervous to tell me what she had done, fearing that I would be upset. Instead, I was enormously touched that she loved my child enough to nurse her. She continued to nurse both children for several months. It was a blessing.

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  77. These are all amazing stories and it's a shame that breastfeeding is such a taboo subject for some people!
    I never nursed another child besides mine simply because there has been no occasion to do it but I would have done it willingly if necessary!!
    My friend and I had children of the same age born only a week apart!! It was her fourth child and mine was the first. She was a huge support and she had nursed all her kids so she was an expert on breastfeeding!!! I used to be afraid of leaving my daughter because she had never taken a bottle in her life not even an expressed one so when the need arose my friend always wanted to babysit and she would nurse my daughter together with hers!!! I was so relieved and my mind was always at ease knowing my daughter is in good hands but most of all because she was still getting breast milk but most of all the soothing she loved so much!!!
    Once when my daughter was still 2 months old I was really sick, I was dehydrated had fever and no strenght at all and the first thing I did was call her to see if she could help and she came straight away!! Lol then I called my husband to come home from work and fearing he would arrive late he called his parents to check up on me until he arrived as they lived only 2 streets away. My inlaws arrived a few minutes before my friend and my mother in law who FYI was totally against nursing a child, kept insisting that we should give the baby a bottle but I didn't even have any formula Lol!!! Then my friend came and asked her to give her the baby as she wanted to give her some milk. My mother in law stormed out of the house and later my husband spent hours trying to explain to her that my friend had nursed the baby and not given her a bottle!!!! She couldn't believe that this was even possible or let alone that were people willing to nurse another child.
    When I tell this story to people I get many many strange or even disgusted looks and I think I would easily have been voted out of a mum group as unfortunately that's the mentality in my country!!!
    Its so touching and amazing to hear these stories and people who are willing to give mother nature a helping hand!!!
    Keep it up ladies and may God bless you all!!!

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  78. When my baby girl was only 3 days old, her super strong suction plus a minor latch position issue resulted in a matched set of bleeding nipples for me. I had to take a break from breastfeeding long enough to let them heal, and we opted to pay for donor milk instead of using formula. I am eternally grateful to the unknown mamas who donated their milk and allowed me the healing time I needed.

    Even better, after the fact, one of my good friends (upon hearing the story) told me I should have called her - she has a daughter just a few months older than mine, and she'd been overproducing, so she had a freezer full of pumped milk she'd have given me!

    Once I healed, there were no more problems, and my now-nearly-18-month-old is still nursing strong!

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