Saturday, April 9, 2011

Something Borrowed

I normally try to avoid writing things that I know will be too controversial here. 

Don't get me wrong, I love to play the Devil's Advocate as much as the next person.  I did go to law school for a reason. 

Here, though, I try to avoid saying what I really think about things that will turn people off.  I avoid touching certain topics. 

Ironically, one of my professors in law school always comes to mind when I am trying to avoid talking about anything controversial.  She was an eccentric one, to say the least...but then I think professors should be.  I'm sure she has gone on to bigger and better things by now, and I'll not mention any names for that reason.  Everyone I went to school with will know who I'm talking about though.  She was young and feisty, she sipped Coke out of the side of her mouth constantly and said "um" far more often than anyone in the legal profession ever should.  Mr.Cohen?  Remember the tally marks we'd keep? 

Anyway, she'd always talk about the third rail.  The things that no one in politics would ever touch, for if they did, there was instant death.  Abortion was the biggest one.  Medicare was another.  Go anywhere near those subjects and you're just asking for trouble. 

Though these days my life isn't filled with discussions on those subjects as much as it used to be, there are other third rails I've discovered in my journey through parenthood.  The biggest one being breastfeeding.

It's such a hot button issue that there are two categories of bloggers who talk about it: those who stir up controversy on purpose, and those who generally avoid it and talk about it only in passing.   I generally fall into the latter of the two.  I've mentioned it here, yes.  I nursed all my kids, the first three exclusively.  AJ was supplemented, but only right after birth for weight issues and after he turned a year.

I'm a doula, I'm a natural birther, I'm a breast feeder.  I'm crunchy. 



What I haven't done here is climb up on my soapbox to talk about nursing.  I know that it is a super emotional issue where just about any mother can be instantly offended.

Breastfeeding really is the third rail of motherhood, and I'm about to touch it. 

There is currently a topic running through the blogs and even the media as a whole right now though, and I can't ignore the subject anymore.  They are talking about milk sharing. 

The FDA just issued a statement about it, basically saying that informal milk sharing is dangerous and if people need to obtain human milk they should only do so through use of milk banks. 

The reality is that there are many babies who need breast milk for health reasons.  And some of their mothers cannot make enough milk, or any at all.   I will, for now, ignore the fact that most women who don't think they can make enough milk probably could in reality if given the proper support and determination.  Milk insufficiency, though a legitimate condition, affects a very small percentage of women. 

So, what you have is babies who need milk.  And women who pump too much.  They just don't always happen to be mother and child.

A lot of people are just grossed out by the whole idea of milk sharing.  I think that is amusing to say the least.  In this country, we drink milk without an issue....as long as it comes from another animal.  But drinking milk from a human???  That's just plain weird. 

Many people cite the dangers of milk sharing.  They say that you could be exposing your baby to all kinds of diseases and substances passed through from the donor mother without knowing what is in it.  Some cite storage concerns, that the milk may not have been handled and frozen properly and is therefore dangerous.

How is any of that more worrisome than the formula recalls?  I almost died as a baby from salmonella....that I got from a jar of baby food.  Don't believe that the food supply is safe just because it's nicely packaged from some corporation.

There are milk banks, yes.  It is possible to get breast milk that has been screened for disease and processed.  The banks collect donated milk and pasteurize it, which negates a decent amount of the health benefits of breast milk in the process.  The thing that most people don't understand about milk banks is this: they aren't free.  They charge insane prices per ounce of milk.  When you figure that most babies will need somewhere between 24 and 60 ounces of milk a day, that adds up quickly.  Sometimes insurance covers it, sometimes it doesn't.  I know I don't have $300 a day to feed one child.

So there are moms out there who ask their friends, their family members.  I'd say that most cases of milk sharing are not between strangers.  It's not like women are swapping milk in dark alleys with people they don't know.  They know the women who give them milk.  They trust them.  The donors understand how important the milk is.  Most women who spend the time pumping and storing milk are not going to be doing it for anything other than altruistic purposes.  It's extremely time consuming and not very much fun to be honest.

Women helping other women feed their babies.  It's not anything that hasn't happened since the dawn of time.  It's just something that happened quietly before and is now out there in the open.  And the FDA has an opinion about it now.  So everyone suddenly has an opinion about it. 

Frankly, I don't see what the big deal is.  Everyone always gets defensive when people talk about how we choose to feed our babies.  I don't honestly see how this is different.

This is one of those topics that is close to my heart.  Once upon a time, I pumped religiously every day.  Once upon a time, I had a baby who refused to take a bottle.  Once upon a time, I had a freezer full of milk.  Once upon a time, I had a friend who had to instantly wean her newborn.  And once upon a time, that baby still got breast milk until her first birthday.  ;)

Link to what the FDA says about milk sharing
A local milk bank site, for information on cost. Here, $3.50 per ounce.

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