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Milk Sharing - SmartMom

Milk Sharing: What Mamas Need to Know

Photo by Eden Lang

Last week, as I was picking up my donor milk from my friend Jenny, she wondered out loud what people must think we’re doing. We frequently meet at the back of parking lots, babies in tow, where she hands me a bag full of frozen breast milk in storage bags and I discreetly transfer it to my cooler to take home.

“Do you think they think this is some kind of weird drug deal?” she asked, grinning. I had to laugh, because I’d had the same thought on the way there. Wouldn’t you love to see the face of the cop who investigated us and found out what was actually in my bag? Fortunately, accepting another mother’s breast milk is perfectly legal, and it’s becoming a lot more common than you might think.

For as long as women have been breastfeeding, there have been those of us who have had trouble producing for various reasons, and if it weren’t for the ancient practice of milk sharing, many babies across the centuries wouldn’t have survived.

Milk sharing is, to me, a vital part of creating a mothering village. If it weren’t for three wonderful, generous women who have been donating their expressed milk for Charlie, we would be giving him about 80% formula and 20% breast milk. Because we have been able to enter milk sharing agreements with other nursing mothers, we are able to do the opposite: about 20% formula and 80% breast milk. While we recognize that feeding Charlie more formula wouldn’t be the worst thing, it was important to us to explore all of our options for providing him with as much breast milk as possible, and that’s what led us to research milk sharing.

Breast milk is unquestionably better for babies than formula. It’s the biologically normal food for human babies, the default option, and the benefits are clear:

  • Babies who are breastfed have stronger immune systems.
  • The risk of SIDS is lower in breastfed babies.
  • Breastfeeding may improve your child’s intelligence.
  • Babies who are breastfed are less likely to develop allergies.
  • Breastfed babies are less at risk for obesity and diabetes.

Milk sharing can provide babies with these benefits when their mothers have trouble producing enough breast milk, but accepting the milk of another mother doesn’t come without risks.

There was a study that came out in the journal Pediatrics in October that really shook the breastfeeding community. Many lactivists were up in arms about the potential ramifications of the experiment, which took a look at breast milk samples from online purchases and found many of them contaminated with potentially dangerous bacteria. The fear was that this would make milk sharing more taboo than it already is, or prompt legislation that would regulate it out of existence. Meanwhile, the pro-formula forces came out in droves, pointing the finger at milk-sharing and saying. “We told you so!” As usual, I found myself somewhere in the middle, still determined to give Charlie the best food possible, but now concerned about how to help other mothers ensure safety when feeding their baby another mother’s milk.

The most obvious choice is to go through a milk bank, which carefully screens the milk that mothers donate, ensuring that what arrives on your doorstep will be free from contaminants and viruses like hepatitis and HIV. However, not every baby is eligible, and the price can be steep. In order to obtain milk through a bank, you must first have a doctor’s prescription. This means that the majority of the milk purchased through banks goes to babies who have medical conditions that necessitate breast milk, or babies who are in the NICU for a variety of reasons. On top of that, milk from banks can cost anywhere from $60-150 per day, which may or may not be partially covered by insurance. A staggering price tag like that just isn’t feasible for many families. We knew immediately that a milk bank wouldn’t be a good fit for us.

The caveat with getting milk from a source like Eats on Feets or Human Milk for Human Babies, which facilitate “mother-to-mother” or “community” milk sharing, is that there is no official screening process. These websites help hook up mothers in need with mothers who have an oversupply, but that’s where their participation ends. If you want the milk screened, you must do so at your expense. If you choose not to do so, you are trusting another mother to provide healthy, uncontaminated breast milk for your baby. You are trusting that she’ll abstain from alcohol and drug use while pumping for you, and that her milk handling standards provide the most sterile environment possible. And that’s a lot of trust to put in another woman. After all, the health of your baby is on the line.

For us, the job of choosing a donor came pretty easily. The women we get milk from are friends of mine, one of whom I’ve known since we were in junior high school, so we had no problem trusting them when they said they were doing things the right way. However, for a lot of women, the mothers they are considering for milk sharing agreements are either more casual acquaintances, or even complete strangers. When you’re dealing with an agreement of this kind, it’s helpful to have a list of questions to ask the potential donor. Here is a list of common questions milk banks ask, which is a good place to start:

  • Is there anything that would prevent you from donating SAFE and healthy breast milk?
  • Have you read the Resource for Informed MILK SHARING?
  • Do you have any concerns about sharing your milk that you want to talk about?
  • Have you ever tested positive for: TB, HTLV I or II, HIV I or II, Herpes Simplex, Hepatitis B or C, or Syphilis?
  • Have you had close or intimate contact with anyone infected with any of the above?
  • Are you or your sexual partner(s) at RISK for HIV?
  • Were you born in or have you ever visited any of the following
  • countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatoria, Guinea, Gabon, Niger or Nigeria?
  • Has a blood relative been diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)?
  • Do you have any open sores, BLISTERS, and/or cracks on the skin?
  • Would you agree to have your blood screened if requested?
  • Would you agree to be tested for TB if requested?
  • Have you required hospitalization or blood transfusion the last 12 months?
  • Have you ever received an organ transplant?
  • Have you received any vaccinations in the last 12 months?
  • Do you have a history of cancer?
  • Do you take any prescription medications on a regular basis, including hormone replacement?
  • Do you take excessive amounts of prescription drugs?
  • Do you have any general health concerns?
  • Does your baby have any general health or weight gain concerns?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you consume more than 3 caffeinated beverages per day?
  • Do you drink alcohol? How much and how often?
  • Do you use recreational drugs? Which ones and how often?
  • Do you use over-the-counter (OTC) medication? Which ones and how often?
  • Do you use herbal supplements? Which ones and how often?
  • Do you have silicone breast implants?
  • Have you had body piercings, tattoos, accidental needle stick injuries, acupuncture, electrolysis or wear permanent make up?
  • Do you take megavitamins?
  • Do you know how to clean milk collection items?
  • Do you know how to safely store milk?

While you may not feel like it is necessary to ask all of these questions, they can provide valuable insight into the mother’s lifestyle and whether there are potential risks that may make you rethink using them as a donor.

Now, we were never particularly concerned about the lifestyles of the women who donate to us. None of them are partiers, so we knew that drugs and alcohol wouldn’t be issues, and all of them lean toward the “crunchy” side, so we knew that they would be cautious about medications and other things that could potentially affect their milk. For us, the most important thing was making sure that the mothers donating for us are utilizing safe handling and storage guidelines. Once we confirmed that they were aware of the accepted techniques there, we felt perfectly comfortable using their milk.

Charlie has been eating donor milk now for about two months, and so far we haven’t had any issues at all. Of course, there is some risk in giving him donor milk, but to me the risk isn’t any worse than me feeding him my own expressed milk, because I trust our donors and know that they wouldn’t treat theirs any differently than I treat mine in terms of collecting and storing it safely. They all care about Charlie and want him to be healthy, so I know that they are extremely careful when it comes to the milk they give for him.

The reason I am able to say this with confidence, though, is that I know them so well, so my biggest piece of advice is this: Get to know your donor.

I’m not just talking about meeting once for coffee. I mean really get to know her for a couple of weeks before you enter into a milk sharing agreement. Hang out together. Watch how she interacts with her own baby. Throw on a movie and pump together, so you can see how she handles her collection and storage equipment. Ask her a bazillion questions, and send her to the Resource for Informed Milk Sharing to read up on safe donation practices. Just make sure you are totally comfortable with her before you ever give your baby an ounce of her milk, and if anything sets up a red flag for you, politely decline the offer for donation.

It’s so important to me that milk sharing remain a viable way for mothers blessed with an oversupply to give to mothers like me who struggle, but it’s even more important to me that our babies are happy and healthy, so please do your own due diligence and make sure that whatever milk you’re giving your baby, whether you expressed it yourself or got it from another amazing, generous, milk-makin’ mama, is handled safely.


Think lactivists should stand up for this too?

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Lactivism - SmartMom

Lactivism: Here’s the Bottom Line

Photo from the Normalize Breastfeeding IG feed  

On a recent play-date at the zoo, amidst bare-chested chimpanzees and matronly wallabies with their joeys, the exhibit I couldn’t tear my eyes away from was a buxom woman, bare breast exposed, nursing her child on a very public bench. Given the setting, it seemed oddly natural—mother nature in action. But nonetheless, it was disconcerting to see a naked boob on display with so many curious children around, mine included. “Must be one of those lactivists,” my friend observed.

Those what? I’d heard of feminism, Darwinism, even utopianism, but lactivism was novel to me. What the heck is lactivism anyway? Basically, it is the advocacy of breastfeeding over formula feeding. Lactivism is a contemporary movement striving to ensure that nursing mothers are not discriminated against in public places. Lactivists believe a woman has the right to breastfeed her child anytime, anywhere, in any way she sees fit.

Is That Legal?

Federal law states that a woman may breastfeed her child at any location in a Federal building or on Federal property, if they are authorized to be present. Currently in the U.S., 45 states have laws allowing women to breastfeed in any public or private location (check your state’s laws here). That means it is discriminatory to deny a nursing mother full and equal enjoyment to goods, services, and facilities just because she is breastfeeding. The good news: if you are breastfeeding, the law is basically on your side.

Chick-Fil-A, party of 20

In 2013, a Knoxville, Tennessee Chick-Fil-A employee asked a nursing mom to stop. Soon after, a group of outraged lactivists staged a “nurse-in,” fashioned after a civil rights sit-in, except there were bosoms involved. Around 20 women entered the family restaurant and proceeded to breastfeed their children amongst diners trying to enjoy their meals. It was an effort to educate society about the state law, which allows women to breastfeed anywhere, public or private. It undoubtedly caused some indigestion.

Some call it breastfeeding brouhaha, others call it 100% justified, but lactivism has brought the fight for breastfeeding awareness into, literally, the public eye.

The Shocking Truth

Lactivism, like all great “isms,” is based on a righteous desire: to enable women to comfortably breastfeed wherever they may be. It’s what our bodies were made to do. Where lactivism catches a snag, is when it becomes self-righteous, with promoters denouncing formula feeders and feigning superiority over those who don’t, or cannot breastfeed. The shocking truth: formula fed babies turn out to be smart, beautiful, and talented children too.

The Bottom Line: 

When it does work, breastfeeding is beautiful. I’ve been able to breastfeed each of my three children, and to make breastfeeding successful, I’ve had to use my handy nursing cover plenty of times at the library, at church, even at amusement parks. Long gone are the days of my mother, when women locked themselves away in a room to breastfeed.

But can we meet somewhere in the middle? Bare boobs on public benches aren’t necessary. There are so many wonderful cover-up products out there that make it quite convenient to breastfeed your baby while maintaining privacy and appeasing other’s comfort as well. People today are much more accepting to public breastfeeding when it’s done tactfully.

Breastfeeding is one of the miracles of the female body. It doesn’t work for everyone, and those women shouldn’t feel guilty, or ostracized from other breastfeeders. The way you feed your child should not be an “us” and “them” issue. Instead, we should focus more on being the loving, caring mothers our children deserve.


Some moms can’t produce enough to even have this problem – here is some information on milk sharing.



Hi ladies, I have a question. What do you think about breastfeeding in public?

Breastfeeding in public… opinions? Suggestions?

“Hello moms! What tips do you all have for breastfeeding in public? I love feeding my dd but not sure how to go about doing so in public? By the way she is only 9 days old if that makes a difference.”

It really makes me mad when women get kicked out of public places for breastfeeding in public. We use covers and it’s a natural thing that shouldn’t be looked down on & people that get mad about BFing in public need to grow up a little.

Tips on breastfeeding the LO in public?

Public Breastfeeding Rant- having a debate w my mom on it is hysterical. She is so against a woman just whipping it out to feed. I’m on team whip it out and who gives a sh**. I’m done w having to be insecure about having a baby. How can a woman breastfeeding her child in public be offensive but the Victoria secret models breast blown up and plastered on the side of a store not be. And why do I have to cover up to feed my baby in public but a woman spilling out of a low cut top doesn’t have to?

Why does Breastfeeding in public have to be so taboo?! I hate not being confident enough to just do it. I even got myself a cute cover and everything but just find myself rushing home to feed my son.

“Hi Mommas! Have a couple of questions.

1) what do you all use to replace your coffee habits/cravings? I’m breastfeeding so have decreased my coffee intake, but miss my coffee. I miss the whole ritual. Had a Chai Tea Latte today, was pretty good!

2) where do breastfeeding moms duck out while breastfeeding in public? I’m pretty modest and sometimes have a tough time finding places.”

I went to Walmart yesterday with my 2 month old and he would not stop crying near the end and I couldn’t get anything done! It was because he was hungry but I’m breastfeeding and it’s hard to find a place to nurse him in public. Any advice on how to make it easier?

Was there always such a fuss over breastfeeding in public or do I just notice it now as a first time mom?


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SmartMom: pumping in secret

Pumping in Secret: One Working Mom’s Embarrassing Story

Photo by Sydney Everett

Being a working mom comes with a variety of challenges. One of the most difficult is figuring out how to keep your baby fed and happy while you’re at work. My first baby was supplemented with formula, but when my second baby came along, I decided I would try to pump at work. But I ended up pumping in secret.

Being an elementary school teacher, there were not many opportunities for me to slip away from my students to pump.  For weeks I suffered through embarrassing leaks and uncomfortable engorgement. My husband told me I just needed to talk to my principal about the situation, tell him I’m breastfeeding and that I need time to pump. To which I always replied, “No way! I can’t say the word breast in front of my principal! I’ll figure it out on my own!”

Thankfully there were a few other teachers who took their classes out to recess at the same time I did who were kind enough to offer to watch my class while I took care of business.

At first I attempted pumping in the faculty bathroom… but it didn’t take long for me to realize it was not the ideal location. For one thing, there was nowhere to sit other than the toilet, which, besides being uncomfortable, didn’t seem like the most sanitary place to pump. Also, it turns out the echoing acoustics of a public restroom didn’t exactly provide the discrete, private atmosphere I was hoping for. When it was brought to my attention that anyone within 100 yards of me could hear the ironic “mooing” sound of my electric pump resonating down the hall, I quickly moved my pumping sessions to the comfort of my classroom. It was quiet, secluded, and relaxing…and it worked for me.

Until one fateful day there was an incident out on the playground with one of my students. Let’s call him Bobby, for all intents and purposes. It was my job to prevent these kinds of situations from happening. My principal went from mildly upset to foaming at the mouth when he confronted Bobby, “What did Mrs. Younker have to say about your behavior on the playground?”

Bobby replied innocently, “Mrs. Younker wasn’t out at recess. I haven’t seen her at recess for weeks.”

With steam coming out of his ears, the principal marched down the hall to my classroom, fully prepared to give me a piece of his mind. When he came to my door he was surprised to find it was locked. Without even thinking of the various reasons WHY it might be locked, he whipped out his master key…

Up until that moment I had been sitting at my desk, hooked up to my machine like a cow in a dairy farm. Suddenly, I heard the door rattling, as if someone was struggling to get it open. Frantically, I yanked my shirt down, ignoring the streams of white milk now cascading down my torso. In one fell swoop I leaped up from my chair and shoved myself as far away from the pump as possible.

Just then the principal bounded into the room. “There was a problem with Bobby on the playground.” He said, each word dripping heavily with accusation.

“Oh no.” My voice caught in my throat as I asked, “What happened?” Just then, I looked down and realized that although I had managed to pull my shirt down, my bra was still twisted and bunched around my neck. I could feel heat rushing to my face as I casually crossed my arms over my chest, hoping to hide the damage.

“Do you want to explain to me why you weren’t there? Why you haven’t been out to recess in weeks? “

“Well….” I stammered, “I … uh…”

“It is your responsibility to be out on the playground with your kids every day.”

“I know… I just…” At that moment I realized I had to choose between complete and utter embarrassment, or my job reputation.

“I had to pump!” I blurted out.

At first he looked confused. Then, for the first time since he barged in, he took a good look around the room. His eyes fixed on the bottles of milk sitting visibly on my desk. His face turned a deep shade of red as realization dawned on him.

There we stood, the very definition of awkward, shuffling our feet back and forth waiting in agony for the other person to say something. Finally, he turned to me, careful to keep his gaze at eye level, and said, “Yeah… uh…we need to find a time and place for you to do that.”

And with that he turned and left… and avoided me for the rest of the week.

Let this be a lesson to you ladies. Don’t be afraid to talk to your employer about your needs as a new mother. Turns out, they are required to give you time to pump– It’s the law. Don’t worry, you are probably not the first person in the world to bring up the subject, and it is far easier to have a slightly uncomfortable conversation now than it is to have an extremely uncomfortable conversation later. Trust me.

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