Today is the last day of National Breastfeeding Month.
This post is not meant to disparage those women who don't nurse. Many mothers choose not to nurse for various reasons: they don't have a good milk supply, they need to go back on medications that would taint the breastmilk, or they are not able to nurse for a variety of reasons. And some women choose to bottle-feed (with formula) simply because that is their preference, with no other reason. And that's ok!
I nursed (or pumped) for quite a few reasons. Research shows that, among other benefits, breastfeeding provides health benefits for the mother and provides numerous health benefits for the baby, including being less susceptible to SIDS, asthma, allergies, etc. Breastfed babies have also been shown to have higher IQs. Besides, I loved that bonding time I had with my son, that one-on-one skin time, and the knowledge that I alone was providing for him nutritionally.
I loved nursing my son, D. When he was born, almost 7 1/2 years ago now, I attempted to breastfeed just a few hours after he was born. He nursed like a pro from the very beginning. We never had any issues: he latched on immediately, I never had any chafing or other issues that hurt women, and my milk supply was great. My memories of nursing him are very tender. I loved that closeness with him. I nursed him until he was 13 months old (for the first 6 months he was nursed exclusively, then introduced to baby food). I did pump my milk once a day so that my husband, J, could feed him a night bottle. I wanted D to be able to use the bottle so that not only could J participate in feeding him once a day, but so that I would be able to get out of the house alone once in a while.
When my daughter, A, was born 5 years ago, I assumed I would nurse her too. Of course, unbeknownst to me until the moment she arrived in the world, she had a tons of medical issues. She was not able to nurse. Not only did she have a cleft lip, making it hard for her to get a seal, but she had breathing difficulties and couldn't nurse and breathe at the same time. I spent the first two days of her life desperately trying to get her to nurse, but she couldn't. She lost 2 pounds in the first 2 days of her life, and then was whisked off to the NICU.
A first got an ng tube (a feeding tube that went in her nose), and later got a g-tube (a feeding tube inserted into her stomach). As we all know by now, she eventually did learn how to eat and in fact got the feeding tube removed last summer, at the age of 4 (she used it for 3 years; the last year it was still in her tummy but unused).
Even though A was a on a feeding tube, I still wanted to breastfeed her. I wanted her to get the benefits of my milk. I also wanted to feel like I was doing SOMETHING to help her; I felt so helpless with her hooked up to all those machines. So I did the next best thing: I pumped. I got a new pump (which we got insurance to pay for as part of her feeding cost) and I pumped several times a day, even waking up in the middle of the night to pump. All of her feeds through the tubes were done with my milk. Sure, we had to add a little powdered formula in the milk in order to boost the caloric intake (she really needed to gain weight) but the liquid was all mine, just a bit of powder mixed in.
Very soon, the bottles of milk that I would pump overtook our kitchen freezer, and we had to buy another freezer for the garage. Soon enough, that freezer was full. I had an amazing milk supply, and while I was pumping so much, my daughter only needed a little at a time.
Yes, that is all milk. Nothing but milk was in the freezer, and as you can see it was stacked to the top!
I was running out of room to store the milk. I still wanted to pump (I wanted to feed my daughter for as long as I could) but didn't know where to store the milk! The lactation consultant in the NICU told me about milk banks, where you could donate breastmilk to different NICUs. There are babies who desperately need breastmilk, but their mothers can't provide it. It seemed like a perfect solution; I could keep pumping, have room in the freezer to store for A, and help needy babies at the same time.
There was a big screening process before I could donate. First, I had a phone interview, then had to fill out a written application. My doctor had to sign the form, vouching that I was healthy. Finally, I had to have a blood screening. Since breastmilk is a mode for viruses to travel, they had to make sure I wasn't sick. After a trip to the San Diego Blood Bank for a blood draw, I was cleared.
The process was simple. Once I had enough milk to donate, I would call the milk bank to set up a pickup. They would send me a cooler and I would pack the bottles (each one labeled with the date I pumped it) tightly in, then insulate with paper towels or newspaper (there was explicit directions given to me on how to pack the milk safely). I would then call FedEx, who would pick it up and deliver the milk that day.
I pumped my milk for a year. Not only did I pump enough to feed my daughter for a full 12 months, but I also was able to donate roughly 56 liters of milk! That's a lot of milk! I felt really good about it. I am glad I got to help other babies in the NICU, and I'm thrilled I got to provide my daughter with my breastmilk. I wish she could have actually nursed, but at least she got the next best thing.