World Breastfeeding Week is August 1-7, 2015. This year’s theme is Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s Make it Work! Did you know that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding your child up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond? Breastfeeding helps provide optimum nutrition for healthy growth and brain development, provides protection from respiratory infection, diarrhoeal disease, and other life-threatening conditions, as well as protection against obesity and other non-communicable diseases, such as asthma and diabetes, as they grow up. Yet globally, only 38% of babies born are exclusively breastfed and suboptimal breastfeeding conditions contributes to over 800,000 infant deaths worldwide each year.
Mothers across the globe are faced with the decision of whether or not to re-enter the workforce after their babies are born. For some it’s a choice, to continue a career they’ve worked hard to build or a little added income to help support the family. For others, its a necessity. A daily struggle to make sure there is enough food on the table. Yet many work places are not conducive to supporting breastfeeding mothers. Bringing babies to work is often not an option. Taking the time off to go feed your baby every 1.5 to 3 hours is difficult to manage logistically. Finding a private location to pump milk may prove to be difficult. And many supervisors may not be supportive of taking extra breaks throughout the day to pump milk for your child. These very real struggles combined with increased formula marketing over the years have led many mothers to choose not to continue breastfeeding, simply because its too much of a hassle.
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) launched a campaign in 1993 called Mother Friendly Workplace Initiative in order to help women combine breastfeeding and their career. Over the last 22 years they have been able to help create stronger maternity entitlements, encouraged more countries to get involved in creating breastfeeding and mother-friendly workplace environments, and helped promote a greater awareness of working mothers’ rights to breastfeed. But they aren’t ready to stop there! By the year 2025 the WABA hopes to increase the number of exclusively breastfed babies worldwide from 38% to 50%. They hope to do so by working to limit formula marketing, empower women to exclusively breastfeed by supporting paid maternity leave, strengthen health systems by expanding the baby-friendly hospital initiatives, and provide community-based strategies to support exclusive breastfeeding counseling for pregnant and lactating women.
I have been very blessed in my breastfeeding journey. I switched jobs in the middle of my pregnancy, interviewing for what I hoped would be my dream job as a mental health counselor at a local University while 20 weeks pregnant. I’m not a small girl (although somewhere in between average and plus sized) and was still able to hide my baby bump at the time. I knew I didn’t have to disclose my pregnancy but felt that it would be underhanded to hide this information so I confided in my now supervisor about my family way. He was and continues to be a great support. I got the job and started in September 2014 at 7 months pregnant! HR was wonderful and allowed me to take unpaid leave after my daughter was born despite the fact that I didn’t qualify for FMLA benefits (you have to be employed at a company for at least 12 consecutive calendar months to be protected by FMLA).
I knew that I wanted my daughter to have the benefits of colostrum and the nutrition and immunities from continued breastfeeding and swore that come Hell or high water I would find a way to make breastfeeding work for us. I was truly blessed to have almost no problems at all and apparently to have been a dairy cow in a former life. We had some minor latch difficulties the first couple days but through support from the hospital’s on staff Lactation Consultant and a local online Facebook breastfeeding support group we worked through the bumps in the road and found our natural rhythm.
I knew I had to return to work in 6 short weeks, which meant my daughter would have to start daycare and bottle feeding would be a necessity. I didn’t want to give up the benefits of breastfeeding so I started pumping almost immediately after she was born. I had seen so many of my friends struggle to get their babies to take a bottle so at risk of “nipple confusion” we started introducing bottles of pumped milk when she was 5 days old. We were only giving her one bottle a day, an opportunity for her Daddy to bond with her and a bit of me time without the baby attached to my boob which meant that I quickly started to stockpile some milk. I squirreled away my little stash and would peek in the freezer to muse over the fact that I made that! Something so beautiful! Just the idea that my body could create something that could sustain life!!! How freaking cool is that!?!
I had assumed that once my daughter started daycare that I would start to go through my stash of milk so I bagged it, labeled it, and stored it in my deep freeze. But as she started to eat more my body naturally started producing more milk and my stash continued to grow. One day I opened up my freezer and my stash looked like this:
Nearly 1000 oz of liquid gold!!! And I knew that my daughter couldn’t possibly drink that much milk, especially now that we’ve started supplementing with solids as well, so I started really considering the idea of donating my milk.
See, here’s the thing, not all women are as blessed as me to be milk machines. Maybe they tried and struggled to keep up with baby’s demand. Maybe they have an injury or illness that prevents them from nursing. Or maybe they take medication that they don’t want to expose their babies too. Many of these women may want their babies to be able to benefit from the nutrients in an exclusively breastmilk diet. I’ve seen many of these women shamed by other mothers for having to choose to supplement with formula because they didn’t have donor milk available or didn’t even know that donor milk was an option.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to cast judgment on those mothers who knowingly choose to give their child formula instead of breastmilk or choose to supplement their own supply with formula for reasons they’ve discussed with their pediatrician. In fact I think this mommy shaming has got to stop! I am a firm believer in supporting all mothers no matter what they choose as the best option for their families. But I do think that we can make a difference and increase the number of mothers who choose to breastfeed their babies by normalizing breastfeeding, educating the underprivileged on the benefits of breastfeeding instead of just handing them bottles of formula at the WIC office with little to no information about alternatives, and supporting organizations like Human Milk 4 Human Babies and local milk banks.
I had considered donating to local mothers directly and strongly support organizations like Human Milk 4 Human Babies that network communities of local women to help donate breastmilk to families in need. But about two months ago I learned that a local milk depot had opened up near my hometown in North Alabama that collected and stored milk to deliver to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Alabama (MMBAL) located in Birmingham. MMBAL is a new milk bank that collects donor milk and pasteurized it to send to sick and premature infants in NICUs in Alabama and the Southeast.
I started my application process about two weeks ago and it was quick and easy! I filled out the application and signed release forms for MMBAL to contact my OB and my daughter’s pediatrician to verify the health information I provided. Once reviewed they sent me an order to get bloodwork drawn at a local lab of my choice (they covered the cost) and at my convenience. I bagged up 600 oz, keeping about 400 oz reserve just in case and I scheduled a drop off time with the local North Alabama depot, Connections Breastfeeding. On Friday, July 31, 2015 we met with Elizabeth, who was really sweet and a pleasure to chat with, to make our donation!
600 oz liquid gold bagged and ready to drop off!
My She-Ra moment! Me and my rainbow baby in our new Girasol Gothic Cuervo twill wrap dropping off our milk to donate!
And I got this pretty cool t-shirt!
Have you donated milk to a local mother or milk bank? I’d love to hear about your experience! Comment below to keep the conversation going!!!
Find out more information about World Breastfeeding Week at their website – http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/
More information on the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and their mission here – http://www.waba.org.my/
More information on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations on breastfeeding here – http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/
More information about Human Milk 4 Human Babies and their mission here – www.hm4hb.net
Find a local milk bank here – www.prolacta.com/find-a-milk-bank
More information about the Mother’s Milk Bank of Alabama (MMBAL) at their website – https://www.mmbal.org