Milk Share: The Alternative to Breastfeeding Alternatives

We do know one thing for certain, and that is that breast milk is designed for babies.  It’s what they’re meant to eat; more than that, it’s what they’re meant to eat exclusively for about six months and then in conjunction with other foods as they wean (a process that, when left to its natural devices, takes years.)

Of course, the reality of our circumstances doesn’t always fall into perfect step with design. And for an unfathomably long list of circumstantial reasons, any given mother might find herself in a position where breastfeeding her own baby is not fully feasible. It’s not a personal failure; it’s just a rotten string of luck.

Perhaps she didn’t receive adequate support or education (remember: breastfeeding is natural, but often doesn’t come naturally).  Perhaps she suffers from hypoplastic breasts.  Perhaps she had a mastectomy.  Perhaps hormonal imbalances make her milk supply unreliable.  Perhaps she had to return to work to support her family and her breasts don’t respond to the pump.  There’s a long list of reasons, and these women need answers, too.

A Mother’s Question

I receive a lot of questions each week, mostly about cooking and sometimes about other topics related to feeding families and babies.  And you’re always welcome to contact me (facebook works best), and I will do my best to respond.  Occasionally, however, there’s a question that I feel is so important that it warrants a full post so that my response can better help other readers as well.  This week, one arrived in my inbox.

We are looking into adoption, and I will need to make a homemade formula for my baby. Even if I can nurse a little, I won’t have enough to supply the baby and I dont want to try to do a donor bank. I found a recipe on another WAPF site, but she recommends raw milk. Even the farms that sell raw milk do not suggest giving it to a baby under 1 year of age. Even though I drink it, I don’t feel comfortable giving it to my baby. I’ve heard of culturing low-temp pasturized milk. I think I can get that at Whole Foods, but I’m not sure. Do you have any recommendations? I know there are about 12 or 13 other ingredients that go into it too.  – Caroline.

Recently, as Caroline indicated, there’s been a lot of emphasis in traditional foods circles on the use of homemade infant formulas using raw milk or liver for feeding babies whose mothers cannot nurse.  And while these homemade formulas produce beautifully healthy babies; we need to remember two things: 1) traditional peoples weren’t whipping up concoctions of liver or raw milk and cod liver oil to feed babies when mothers couldn’t nurse, and 2) the macronutrient and micronutrient profiles of homemade formulas differ dramatically from human breastmilk. That said, many parents whose circumstances require they use an alternative to human breast milk report that their children thrive on these formulas.

There’s another, often ignored, alternative.

What to Do When You Can’t Breastfeed Your Baby

Increase Your Milk Supply or Induce Lactation

In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price describes how mothers he studied who adhered to traditional diets had little difficulty maintaining abundant milk supplies for their babies well past a year.   Most women, given adequate support, will not need to supplement their milk supply.  That’s little consolation, of course, to the women who do need supplementation.

Traditional peoples and modern breastfeeding mothers often seek galactoloques to help boost a waning milk supply.  In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price outlines how mothers were often given special foods – not only nutrient-dense organ meats like liver, grass-fed butter and fish roe whose nutrients passed through the mother’s milk to her nursing baby, but also cereal grains which were thought to support a healthy milk supply such as quinoa.

common herbal galactologues

Sometimes, lactogenic herbs are all you really need to boost your milk supply.  It’s also important to note, that your milk supply might be fine and your baby might just be in the middle of a growth spurt or other developmental phase in which he or she is nursing a lot.  If you believe you really do suffer from low milk supply, it’s best to seek consultation with a lactation consultant or seek support.  Kellymom.com is a fantastic and thorough resource for breastfeeding mothers.
Even if you’re an adoptive mother, you might look into inducing lactation or relactation.  Many adoptive mothers, with the help of an SNS, herbal galactologues and pumping find that they can nurse their adopted maybes at least partially.  It’s challenging, and not the right choice for every family, but it is possible to nurse your adopted baby.

increasing milk supply: my experience

When my son was born, it took a while for my milk to fully come  in – a week, exactly.  Then it came in with abundance.  Knowing I would have to return to work (at 4 weeks post-partum, part time and at 6 weeks post-partum, full-time) to support my family, I began expressing breast milk right away so that I could train my breasts to respond to the pump.

I had an overabundant supply and was able to donate to the Mothers Milk Bank of Colorado; however, as my son reached 9 months, my body stopped responding to the pump  and while I could nurse him from the breast without issue, I needed a boost to supply him with all the milk he needed while I was not at home.

Mother Love More Milk Tincture coupled with Vitanica Lactation Blend (a recommendation of my naturopath) and plenty of herbal tea helped me to boost my milk supply enough that I could continue pumping enough milk for him through 11 months when I retired the pump (we had a large enough freezer stash to last him until 12 months), but I continued to nurse him until he self-weaned at 3.5 years.

Look into Private Milk Sharing Arrangements

If boosting your milk supply or relactation doesn’t seem effective for you, then consider a private mother-to-mother milk sharing arrangement.  While milk sharing has fallen out of favor in the last century, wet-nursing was once the first choice for mothers who couldn’t nurse their own babies.

In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price describes an incident in which a young mother died, and her own mother who was also nursing an infant at the time boosted her milk supply so that she could nurse not only her own child, but the orphaned infant as well.  Until humans developed alternatives to human breast milk for babies, wet nursing and milk sharing was the way infants survived when mothers couldn’t nurse.  Sometimes, mothers would be forced to feed their babies straight cow’s or goat’s milk, but the results were less favorable for children.

Indeed, the World Health Organization, recommends that a child be fed its own mother’s milk first and if that is unavailable, the milk of another nursing mother before the baby is fed infant formulas.

modern-day milk sharing

No, we don’t live in wandering tribes any longer, and finding a nursing mother to share her milk with your baby seems like an impossibility – or too “out there.”  But, realistically, is it more “out there” than feeding a human baby a dried processed powder of conventional cow’s milk, synthetic vitamins and corn syrup solids?

Communicable disease, adequacy of the mother’s diet and expense seem to be the chiefest concerns for those looking into milk share arrangements.  Most mothers who are nursing are in relatively low-risk groups for communicable diseases; however, you can request regular medical screenings for potential diseases.  Communicating with a potential donor about diet, medications or other concerns is essential, particularly if your baby is sensitive to gluten, dairy or other foods that are passed from mother to child via breast milk (don’t expect a donor to adjust his or her diet to meet your requests).  It is unethical for your donor to ask for compensation for the time spent expressing milk or for the cost of the milk itself; however, you should reimburse your donor for milk storage containers and shipping (if shipping is necessary) and these costs vary.

It’s important to remember that this is also an option for babies, and it is too often ignored.

resources for milk sharing

my experiences as a milk donor

As I wrote earlier, when my milk came in after the birth of my son – it came in with abundance.  I soon had far more milk than he needed, and sought to contribute the excess to other mothers and babies in need.  Of course, mother-to-mother arrangements were even scarcer then than they are now, so I opted to donate my excess milk to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Colorado.  And I donated gallon upon gallon.  The milk bank tested and pasteurized the milk, then provided it to babies in the NICU.

At about nine months after my son’s birth, my breasts no longer responded to the pump as they had previously done and I began to struggle to provide him with adequate expressed milk for when I was at work, let alone providing extra for the milk bank.  About that time, the milk bank “retired” me as a donor – milk changes fundamentally over the course of infancy and the milk a mother’s breast produces for a newborn is fundamentally different from the milk produced for an older infant or toddler.

In the end, I wouldn’t hesitate to donate milk again – either to a milk bank or directly to a mother.  It was a deeply rewarding experience.

A Note about Homemade and Other Infant Formulas

Lastly, remember that the ultimate goal is to feed your baby – however you come by that.  And while the traditional foods movement is all abuzz with talk of homemade infant formulas for babies of mother’s who can’t nurse, it’s important to realize that these formulas are not without their risks, and there is an alternative to this alternative: milk sharing.

Whether you nurse your baby, feed a homemade or commercial formula, or seek donor milk, the most fundamental thing to remember is that your baby will be well fed, and babies can thrive through all these choices.

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What people are saying

  1. says

    I made the homemade infant formula for my first baby and it was well recorded by her. She loved it and thrived on it. Her skin was so soft & she rarely got sick. It takes a little time to prepare daily, but the nutritional benefits are so much more than any commercial formula. I highly recommend making this for your baby if breastmilk is not an option.

    • Anna says

      I’m curious what your recipe was for homemade infant formula. I’m currently trying to find a good one. Thanks!

  2. Heather says

    I’m so glad to read this article. I’m a big breastfeeding advocate, but realistically not everyone can, or wants to breastfeed. I’m so happy to have a real-food alternative to refer mamas to…Thanks!

  3. says

    I have researched into this as well and appreciate you bringing up the topic. While I do see homemade infant formula as a great option, it can seem scary for a new parent making that type of decision without cultural support and/or reassurance. I would love to hear from those who did go this route, what was your experience like? Did everything go smoothly? What happened if there was not raw milk delivered that day (for whatever reason)? Has anyone’s baby gotten sick? I would also love to hear from those who used a milk bank, what was your experience like? How do the deliveries go? What were the costs involved?

  4. says

    Thank you. This is so timely for me as my son is struggling to gain weight at 9 weeks and I am struggling with my supply. I have started supplementing him with formula which I hate, but felt I needed to do something and have been taking various herbs (goat’s rue, fennugreek and mother’s milk tea) to try to up my supply. I will try your recommendations next! It is possible that I have worried so much about him that that alone has been my downfall. Your post offers me hope by providing more options for increasing supply and alternative milk options. I also appreciate your perspective on the raw milk formula as I have been debating it. Thank you for not making an absolute statement about it one way or the other.

    May I ask, is it possible to pump too much? I feel that the more I pump…the less I get out. Is this possible?
    Thank you again and thank you for helping me alleviate a little bit of the guilt.
    Kristi

    • Cathleen says

      Hi Kristi,
      I have worked with nursing mothers for many years, and in reading your post, thought I might add a thought. Stress (and worry) about our abilities to mother and provide for our new babies can have a (sometimes) dramatic effect on milk supply. So your intuition is right about the worry having an impact. I always recommend 3 basics to mamas facing supply issues: 1.) wear your baby (preferably skin to skin) most of the day 2.) have your son on the breast as much as possible, including nursing during the night. 3.) Unless necessary, reduce the time on the pump and have your son nurse. Babies are much more efficient then any pump. In societies where these basics are the foundation of mothering babies, we see far fewer issues with nursing difficulties.
      There are situations, many shared in this feed, where despite heroine efforts by the mother breastfeeding (or exclusive breastfeeding) is just not an option. My heart goes out to these mamas. It can be a devastating experience. I applaud their commitment and desire to provide the best possible nutrition for their little ones. I wish you the best!

      • says

        Cathleen –
        Thank you for your comments and words of advice. My son is starting to gain weight, I am worrying less and my supply is coming back up. I did take a break from the pump and just nursed and it seems to have helped. I am starting him on the raw milk formula as a supplement and feeling much better about that as an alternative which also helps with my worrying! One step at a time, one day at a time.

        • says

          My milk took a while for my daughters, and took six weeks for my son! We fed formula for my boy because the midwife scared us by saying that he would starve to death and such if we didn’t supplement. She also told us with a serious face about how horrible it was to make our own formula because we could inadvertently poison him or malnourish him and we’d be responsible for stunting his growth forever and made us feel like potential abusers just for suggesting it. He’s quite healthy and sturdy now, so don’t think that he was irreparably damaged or anything, but I have to say that I was- I wish someone had told me that he would eventually learn to nurse, even if he was eating off the bottle, or about donors, or about something, anything, except “Sorry, you can’t nurse.” It left emotional scars on me that I didn’t heal until just recently with the birth and nursing of my twin girls.

          My milk delayed a bit for them, too, but I nursed and pumped and nursed and pumped, and eventually (now!) I have plenty to feed both my girls.

          As for the pumping issue, at first it was just to stimulate breasts after the girls had fed- nurse, pump. Rest. Nurse-pump-rest. Now, I use it for when they’re quite stuffed full, but I’m still itching with a bit too much milk! I can get a few extra ounces after every nurse, if I were so inclined, and when they visit Grandmama’s house (with a jar of pumped, of course) I need to pump or I’ll explode! (At least, that’s what it feels like!)

          Our lactation consultant was quite firm about nursing being what stimulates milk. Pumps don’t do all those nibbly little tongue things babies do- they also don’t maul your breast with little fingers, change suck rhythm, or any other little stimuli that your child will. They’ve got a great use, but don’t rely on them entirely, just like was mentioned above.

          PS: Rock on for keeping trying! You’ll get the hang of it!

  5. says

    I was unable to exclusively breastfeed due to extremely low prolactin levels (we later found out this was caused by auto-immune thyroid disease from an undiagnosed gluten intolerance). I tried every galactologue available, including tinctures, essential oils, teas, and herbal capsules. I took 2 and 3 times the recommended doses, but sa NO improvement in my supply. I used a hospital rental pump for 4.5 months and pumped 8-10 times a day. I was pretty much confined to the house, and when I did go out, I had to lug my giant pump and find a restroom somewhere where I could pump. I was becoming so stressed out about pumping constantly and still only being able to provide about half my daughter’s needs, that I finally stopped pumping at 4.5 months (with much heartbreak and guilt). I used the WAPF homemade raw milk formula to supplement starting at about 2 weeks, when my daughter’s weight was still declining rapidly and she was only transferring 0.5 oz per feeding. After 4.5 months, I used the homemade formula exclusively. She never tasted a drop of commercial formula, and has never been sick a day in her life, aside from a few sniffles and low fever probably due to teething. She spoke early, and at 14 months had a vocabulary of over 200 words. At 17 months she could could to 13 by herself. We are so thankful that we found the WAPF formula recipe, and I even created a tutorial video on YouTube for other parents who are needing to resort to this alternative.

    Obviously, I agree that BF is best, and I would have rather lost my right arm than not be able to BF. I still cry when I see other moms BFing. I am also not opposed to milk sharing, but I am of the opinion that the WAPF is a better alternative than milk from a mother with a terrible diet, or milk THAT HAS BEEN PASTEURIZED, such as that from a donor bank.

    If you’re interested in the video tutorials, here’s part 1 (of 3): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NATkyZNMQQ

    • says

      Angie I really appreciated your reply! Your breastfeeding troubles were mine as well, heartbreaking for a mama who believes so much in breastfeeding. I am now due with my second baby, and will definitely give the WAPF a try this time if the same issues arise. Fortunately, I was also able to milk-share from a girlfriend to get me through the worst times with my first. She had her second baby before me, and has already stocked up the freezer for my second baby (about to arrive any day). Milk sharing for me was SUCH an answer to prayer after trying EVERYTHING like you to increase my supply. I’ll for sure bookmark your video!

      • says

        Wonderful! Congratulations on your new addition, and I’m so glad you have access to unpasteurized shared milk. What a blessing! I hope you won’t have to use it, though!

  6. Karen says

    I hesitated to read this article for fear of feeling guilty. For several reasons (including my own health and the need to go on medication soon), I am sadly weaning earlier than I planned to. My baby is almost 10 months old and she now gets mostly commercial formula. I also had to supplement with formula in the shortly after her birth, but once my milk came in (after a long 7 days!) I was able to exclusively breastfeed for 8 months. I’m a working mom with two kids and barely have time to feed our family — let alone try to find an alternative to commercial formula. I appreciate how you did not judge those of us that have to resort to using it.

    • says

      Never feel guilty for doing what you believe is best! Your reasons for weaning are yours alone, and only you know the whys of it- which is how it should be! The fact that you put deep thought into the choice means that it’s the right one for you, and there’s no iron-clad rule that says “Once you wean, TOO BAD! You can NEVER return muahahahaha! Now everyone will say you’re a bad parent!” That would be stupid. You know what’s healthiest for your family and your child, and you’re making this decision from the heart and the mind. Congratulations on your choice and best of luck and love to you!

  7. Tiffany says

    I was unable to breastfeed either of my children due to insufficient tissue. It was, without a doubt, the most painful and difficult thing I’ve faced as a mother, and being open to other possibilities rather than wracking myself with guilt was very important in my own healing. Both of my children benefited from milk sharing arrangements with other moms. With my son, we found a family through word of mouth (a friend posted about our issue in her neighborhood parenting group’s web forum) and paid a mom with an overabundant supply for her excess milk for several months until her supply changed. I feel strongly that it was worth it. We also had many, many women share milk with us, some just a bag or two, others had stashes in their freezers that they didn’t know what to do with. there is so much generosity out there, just for the asking, and we were so grateful.

    After all of the donations stopped, around 6 months of age, we switched our son to the raw milk homemade formula recipe in Nourishing Traditions. It was alot of work–I was using additional milk share to make homemade yogurt for the whey and spoon feeding him the resulting yogurt cheese–and I have many fond memories of him, asleep on my back in the sling, while I was making it in the kitchen after the kids went to bed at night. He grew really well on that formula, but had ear and chest infections chronically; like myself and my daughter, he was intolerant of cow dairy. We switched him to the meat formula in NT at 13 months (he wasn’t eating solids well until he was almost 2, so I felt that formula feeding at that point was still important), and he has never had another infection since then.

    • says

      Tiffany,
      I had the exact same experience in attempting to breastfeed my three children. Eventually, through hormonal testing, I found out the reason why. But it was devastating. And sometimes I think that articles like this, especially by very well known bloggers, can be dangerous because they leave the impression that it is very rare to have low milk supply when in fact it is becoming increasingly more common. I don’t mean to single Jenny out in saying that, but that has been my experience. If you haven’t struggled with low milk supply caused by a very real, very systemic health problem then, frankly, you really have no clue what it is like emotionally and physically. I plan on writing more about it on my blog, but I have heard from literally hundreds of women from all over the world who responded to my low milk supply story with the exact same struggle. I don’t have that huge of a blog and after years of research I suspect that, sadly, not being able to breastfeed due to hormonal problems is becoming a huge issue that no one is really talking about.

      • Amber says

        So … the part where Jenny writes: “Perhaps hormonal imbalances make her milk supply unreliable” leaves you with the impression that it is very rare to have low milk supply? That’s not how I read it at all.

      • says

        Tiffany,
        Thank you so much… I struggled with perhaps the same thing as yourself? I don’t know what your problem was, but I finally got my prolactin level checked (after barely being able to provide half of my daughter’s needs) and the result was 12.4. Should have been 150-200. I just recently found out that all along I had been suffering from an auto-immune thyroid disease caused by an undiagnosed gluten and dairy intolerance. I am hoping and praying that by eliminating gluten and dairy and healing my gut I can recover hormonally enough that I may be able to BF my next child. Is there somewhere I can read your story, and what you did to correct the problem and if you were able to subsequently BF? Thanks so much!

        Angie

        • says

          Angie,
          I have the same issue (autoimmune thyroid disease) and speak about how I’ve handled it on my blog if you are interested. I’m still working on it and haven’t had another baby to nurse to see if there will be any improvements in my milk supply with my improved health. With my last baby the only thing that worked was a combo of domperidone and more milk plus. Even with that it was barely enough for her.

    • says

      just curious what your thoughts were on communicable diseases through the donated breast milk?? We were just donated 250 ounces of breast milk for our son who we just brought home through adoption…..i am debating quick-pasteurization of it to try and eliminate that potential risk- but i’d prefer not to!! I want it to be in its most live and active form….I dont know the mother personally- she shared her health situation with me (healthy, no drugs,alcohol,caffeine)…but that slight chance of a more recent exposure to something (HIV, HEP) scares me. any helpful thoughts ladies????
      also using the lac-taid to nurse, and making homemade raw milk formula that he is doing very well on.

      • Mary says

        Lauren,

        Check out Eats on Feet and Human Milk for Human Babies. They contain lots of information on pros/cons and how to correctly pasteurization. We’ve used donated milk for my youngest for the past 9 months. We obtain the lab work from those mothers as well as an extensive questionnaire. I have declined donations based on the answers. But it has been an extremely positive experience and I believe the anti-bodies from the milk has contributed to my son’s good health.

        Cheers,
        Maru

      • Racheal says

        mothers milk is ful of antibodies as you know, so if the mother has a disease her milk will be full of the antibodies to that disease rather than the disease. what a wonderful thing you are /have done

  8. Jennifer says

    I enjoyed this post as it touches a very emotional string for me. With my first born (and only, so far) I was sure that I would be able to breastfeed and even envisioned copious amounts of milk flowing from my breasts (think waterfalls and rivers) for my newborn. Unfortunately, though, that was not the reality. Having had breast reduction surgery 10 yrs. previously when I was 19 yrs. old, my breasts were unable to make enough milk although my lactation consultant was amazed at the amount I was making (she’s seen many woman post-reduction).

    My donor story is this: I was immensely blessed by receiving donated milk from two mothers who lived locally. The first supply just happened to be extra a niece of a good friend had since she stopped breastfeeding. A few months later the 2nd supply was organized through a friend who was a member of a “natural moms” group. She knew of a mother with a newborn (3 weeks older than my own) who was pumping excessive amounts of milk, so she set up a lunch date for us to meet. During the date we got a chance to talk and while her diet was not my alike to mine, she was medication and disease free, fairly aware of her diet and avoided caffeine and other obvious no-no’s. We really hit it off and she wound up supplying quart sized bags of milk for my daughter for next 6 – 9 months. She was a Godsend and is an angel. She never asked for monetary compensation, but I supplied her with milk bags, baby goodies, and good ol’ fashion time and conversation throughout that time.

    I am hopeful that more mother’s will begin both seek out and supply milk extra milk when needed. Had a wet nurse been available to me, I really think I would have accepted.

    My Homemade Formula story is this: Before finding and receiving donated milk from the 2nd mother, I was in desperate search of an alternative to powdered formula. The last 5 years of my life showed me that there had to be something. That’s when I discovered the raw milk formula and also discovered that I had raw goat’s milk available relatively locally. I bought nearly everything I needed minus the liver and began making the formula. It took awhile to get it just right, but there were little complaints from my little one. She was never sick, honestly, and was always above the 50% mark for both weight and height/length. Her head grew perfectly normal in size. She hit all her developmental marks at the appropriate ages, too. And even though my pediatricians study both holistic and allopathic medicine, when I did mention that I was /trying/ the formula they were a little concerned, but not so much about the raw milk part (which I think may have just gone unnoticed), but the mineral composition. After the initial mention of it, I didn’t bring it up anymore and just let them see her during her wellness check ups as being in perfect health and they never inquired further. Just the typical, “Is she feeding well?” “Yes.” “Still providing her w/ breastmilk?” “Yes.” “Are you supplementing?” “Yes.” While that dialog seems cold, it really wasn’t. I was glad for it.

    The formula ingredients I ended up using differed from the prescribed method and I provide it here as being only anecdotal. Even though I was using raw goat’s milk, I didn’t follow the liver recipe as instructed when using such milk because I was vegetarian at the time (having been raw vegan 4yrs. prior up to pregnancy) and omitted the use of chicken or beef liver, and so I followed the cow’s milk-based recipe instead. Other things that were omitted or tweaked: raw cream – not available; cod-liver oil – uneducated at the time; raw sunflower lecithin instead of gelatin because I had it on hand; camu camu instead of acerola because I had it on hand. And I do not recall if I used butter oil, but I think I may have. Everything else based on the raw cow’s milk recipe, I used. I started out by warming some of the ingredients to assist with emulsification, but eventually dropped that part and left my Vita-Mix to do all the work. It seemed to work well.

    Also, I did try all sorts of galactagogue foods, herbs, teas, pills and tinctures in which very few produced any effects for me. I think I got the most out of Goat’s Rue and Shatavari. In the end, I was able to provide her with some of my own milk for 15 months (pumped mostly with one breastfeeding session either in am or pm). Once the donor milk supply ran out and she was old enough (9 months??), I stopped making the formula and began giving her just plain raw goat’s milk. This was a transition though as I had slowly stopped adding some of the ingredients over time though I would have to dig through those journals that are tucked away somewhere.

    My daughter is now almost 28 months old, still drinks raw goat’s milk, and has no sick day to her name (we’re no longer vegan or vegetarian). Only just recently she contacted a staph infection from me which I believe I got from daddy who trains in jiu-jitsu and probably brought home from the gym. Healing that successfully with natural remedies.

    The hardest part of the whole ordeal was finding forgiveness for myself for not being able to provide for my daughter in the way that /I wanted/ to. God had other plans which have turned into other blessings. If we have another one I will be interested to note the difference my diet will play with both my pregnancy (first one was GREAT!) and breastfeeding. Sorry for the long post. I’m just a little passionate about this topic.
    :)

    • Jennifer V says

      Yes, forgiving ourselves is so hard! What is it so hard? I thought I did that after my first baby 4 years ago, but baby # 2 came along recently and I thought I was so prepared, but guilt and condemnation smacked me in the face again. I am comforted that I am not alone in this, but so sorry for your struggles. Blessings to you and your family.

  9. says

    As usual Jenny, you wrote about a tough subject in a lovely, non-judgmental way. You are such a light in this world. Mothering is a passionate topic and sometimes creates such ugliness and divisiveness in the blog and online world. Thank you for showing us another way; its possible to advocate your strong beliefs without resorting to negativity.

  10. says

    Thanks for writing this article, Jenny!

    Due to a combination of a traumatic birth, poor advice, lack of education and support, and undiagnosed anatomical trouble I was unable to nurse my first child. It was an enormous loss that contributed to my experiencing post-partum depression for over a year. After the first few weeks my son went on conventional formula. I didn’t know of any other options.

    With my second child I was determined to make it happen. I arranged an excellent support network and got properly educated. But I also promised myself that if it didn’t work, I would focus on my relationship with my daughter instead of dwelling on my failures. And it didn’t work. She was born a bit early and lacked a sucking reflex. I pumped but could not maintain a supply, even with emmenagogues and a Lact-aid. Luckily that support network kicked in, and friends with oversupply pumped and donated their milk to my daughter. I drove all over the state to collect frozen milk. We still depended on some organic formula, but for the first year her primary nourishment was donor breastmilk. I am still tremendously grateful for the outpouring of love from our friends and family. I was able to relax and focus on our bonding instead of sobbing in the bathtub with an industrial-sized pump while my child screamed with hunger in the other room (a common experience with my first child, sadly).

    Unfortunately many “natural” parenting communities lack empathy and compassion for mothers who struggle with legitimate, if complicated, nursing trouble. My experience is that fanaticism about breastfeeding can be terribly disruptive to early bonding and destructive to a new mother’s sense of competency. Milk-sharing programs are a wonderful way to bridge the gap. Thanks for bringing attention to this important issue!

  11. says

    I had low supply for both of my sons, and I don’t expect it will be different with any other babies. My oldest was hospitalized for failure to thrive and this was the scariest, saddest time of my life. I did everything! I pumped, nursed, took every supplement with no increase. I heard “once they get the bottle they won’t want to nurse” so many times I was afraid to feed my child.

    With both boys I was so beyond overwhelmed, I drowned myself in sadness. Next time I will try just as hard but I won’t shoot myself in the foot with unreasonable expectations. Whether my kids get formula or not does not change the fact that I try my best. Too many mothers forget that what’s most important to a baby is that they are loved, what they consume matters but a mothers love biological or otherwise is what truly takes care of them.

  12. Heather Hall says

    I used the Nourishing Traditions raw milk formula for my son. We ended up culturing the milk and cream with Piima, he was able to tolerate it that way. Uncultured caused a rash. He also couldn’t tolerate the lactose powder so we used maple syrup, and he couldn’t tolerate the sunflower oil, so I think we doubled the coconut oil. These variants were determined with the help of a natural health practitioner who used applied kinesiology to see what my son was sensitive to. He thrived on this. I wish I had done more to take my friend’s offers to nurse him, I would have been able to put him back to breast at 8 months old and we could have nursed a long time. My daughter was 2/12 when I quit taking meds and she was till asking to nurse after 7 months without. She was able to go back to nursing, I still had milk. My son just couldn’t figure out the latch and I wasn’t able to find help.

    • Lauren Kovar says

      Genius! We are currently waiting the two and a half months it takes to get into the naturopath for this testing. I suspected the lactose powder maybe one of the eczema causing issues for my youngest. The formula is a supplement to nursing when I cant get away at work to pump. I’ve thought about doing some experimenting with the formula-this is a good starting point to try while we are waiting! How much maple syrup are you using?

  13. Annmarie says

    Human milk for human babies is a great resource for donor milk on Facebook. I just linked up with a mom in my area who needed breastmilk. I had a freezer full from pumping when I thought I would return to work in January. I ended up extending my leave and not needing the frozen milk. Rather than dump it I posted on hm4hb and found a mom literally 4 minutes from my house who needed it!

  14. Rebecca says

    One other issue that may occur with moms who have a hard time breastfeeding is when the baby has a tongue or lip tie. Some tongue ties are not detected properly by hospital staff. Not all lactation consultants recognize them either (especially when the tongue tie is in the back of the tongue). If your baby seems to be nursing all of the time and not getting enough, this may be the problem.

    Here is a website with more info:
    http://www.tonguetie.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10

  15. Jennifer Smith says

    Unfortunately, due to a reduction 10 years ago I was unsuccessful at breastfeeding all 3 of my boys, though I had more with each birth. With my youngest, 8 months, we decided to do homemade raw formula, following the NT recipe. I joined an online group where a lot ofpeople were having success with it. We slowly transitioned from commercial to homemade formula and he seemed to be doing well. After a few weeks however his urine output diminished significantly (down to 4 small pees in a day). I took him into the chiropractor who said there was definately something going on with his kidneys, but she couldn’t tell if the formula had caused it or vice versa. We did several weeks on commercial (which he did fine on) and tried homemade several more times. He vomitted it both times. We waited another week and slowly tried to transition again. When he was at only 9 oz a day of homemade and 26 oz a day commercial his urine was diminishing again and we decided we couldn’t risk doing permanent damage.
    So, I think the homemade is a good option if you have to, but people NEED TO KNOW to watch for urine output. When I brought it up to the online group several mothers admitted that they had noticed some diminished output but it wasn’t worrying them which shocked me. Sometimes I worry that “we” want to let everyoner know about this great alternative and are afraid to be honest about the possible issues.

    • Katie says

      Thanks for this honest comment, Jennifer. I think it’s very important for mothers who did not have good experiences with the homemade formula to let others know.

  16. says

    I so wish that there was more information out when I went home with my first child almost 20 years ago. I was a married mom, but no where near any family and felt isolated. My breast feeding experience lasted only a few weeks. I was young and naive and didn’t know what to do or even that I could ask for help.
    With my later children, there was both more information as well as somewhat of a support system. My second child was nursed for 7 months and the third was 19 months! I wish that the hospitals has some sort of screening process where they could connect new moms with older moms who’ve been there. It’s probably around in some places, but it really needs to get out there on a larger scale.
    All three are healthy and well … good nutrition (better for the oldest as she got older) and plenty of clean, fresh air playing outdoors. But I definitely see a difference with the younger two.

  17. Cassandra says

    Motherfood by Hilary Jacobson is the book about using nutrition to not only increase current milk supply, but also build glandular tissue/regulate hormones so lactation is possible in subsequent pregnancies. It was done similarly to Dr. Price’s work.

    mobimotherhood.org is a support and informational website for women struggling with any kind of breastfeeding issue, also started up by Hilary Jacobson.

  18. Angela says

    Thanks for bringing up this important topic. I am wondering about the issue of pasteurization of breastmilk. That’s not traditional and I am wondering what effect it would have on the quality of the breastmilk. Is there any research on that?

    • Jenny says

      Usually, in mother-to-mother sharing, milk is left raw. Milk Banks pasteurize it, though, and that causes a loss of enzymes, beneficial bacteria and heat-sensitive vitamins. Still, NICU babies seem to do well on it.

  19. Summer says

    Glad I read this article. With my first child I was able to exclusivley breast feed for over 6 months. It was great. When I got pregnant with my second I didn’t think I would ever have difficulty. However, he had some muscel/structural issues and by the time we figured out why he wasn’t gianing weight my supply had tanked. I did herbs, massage, pumped everything to raise my supple, but by 9 weeks we HAD to supplement, he had barely gained 2 ponds. I was heart broken. My midwives were very supportive and connected me with some of their other mom they knew that had an abundant supply. These moms were life savers for my baby! I cried the first time I gave him a bottle of someone else’s milk, but soon began to see it as a gift and a blessing! As the months went on I continued to breastfeed, supplement with donnor milk but then I began running out of options with other moms. So, I made the Fallon raw milk baby formula and used that too! It did take some time and my doctor helped me adjust it to my baby’s needs. This is not the road I thought I would be on, but it has worked and my son is healthy as can be, he’s smart too! :)

  20. Gina says

    Shatavari works really well for increasing milk supply. It worked for me while the other herbs did not.

  21. says

    Eleven years ago when my son was born, I nearly died due to a ruptured appendix, and he came 9 weeks early. I had been eating some organic foods, but I was largely on the SAD diet. I now know my diet played into his early arrival and the demise of my appendix. I was also unable to breastfeed due to the early birth and my body being incredibly sick (although the hospital staff and my midwife never admitted this was likely the reason), and I was given plenty of grief about it from the hospital staff (I was in Spokane, WA at the time). There was so much guilt given to me, I really think this made things worse. I didn’t know anything about alternatives back then, and certainly had never heard of donor milk nor home-made formula. I had heard of goat’s milk formula, but didn’t know where to get it.

    If I had to do it all over again and was unable to nurse, I’d probably use the home-made formula unless I could find a donor with the type of dietary habits I’d keep myself. This is because I believe milk from someone who didn’t maintain a healthy, traditional diet likely wouldn’t optimally support my baby’s health. If the donor is lacking in nutrients from a poor diet, the milk will reflect those choices. Most women do not follow a traditional diet, and unless I was sure of the source – and I don’t know which milk banks, if any require those habits of donors – I’d think getting donor milk would be much less likely to be from a source I trusted.

    I also don’t like the fact that the milk would likely be pasteurized, unless it were from someone I knew personally and the milk was donated directly to me. There are certainly many considerations and varying choices to be made, depending on your situation. And all mothers have to decide what’s right for their babies, but that’s what I’d do for mine if I had another baby.

    • Jenny says

      But, Raine, these issues (pasteurization, etc.) are not issues with mother-to-mother sharing; only issues with milk banking (which also has its benefits). There’s a big difference between mother-to-mother milk sharing and milk banking (you’d likely not be able to get milk from a milk bank, even if you wanted it as it’s by RX only and usually reserved only for babies in NICU, although sometimes liver cancer patients and burn victims are also given RXes).

    • says

      I live in Spokane now- I’d say it’s milded out a bit. There’s been a sort of rise of “Do what’s best! Breast is best! You can’t nurse? …. do you want my help? Can I nurse? Can I help you find good formula?” I know WIC is pretty intensively pro-breast but thankfully not obsessively so. The hospitals here are… sort of intense, but they’ve got this thing where if you have a slow start, they start panicking. I had to take my girls into the clinic three times in a week (or ten days) to be weighed and measured and analyzed and I had all sorts of ‘latch analysis’ and other stuff. There was no guilt about nursing vs formula, just pressure to meet some sort of ‘standard’ that they were insisting on. There was no flexibility- my smaller was gaining, but not quite ‘fast enough’ for them- by one ounce. She was always about one ounce below where they said she should have been, and so they started pressuring us to use formula.

  22. says

    We did both. We had donated bmilk and I made homemade raw milk formula. My baby got several ounces of the former each week, and we had no issue with the latter. I did not want to milk share with people I didn’t know so I had to supplement with formula. After researching commercial options, I knew I had to make my own. I found I could make 3 day supply in about 15 minutes. It was completely worth it. He went from the 10% to the 59 %. He is a chubby, healthy one year old.
    I am incredibly grateful to my friends that donated to my son. Their “liquid gold” was precious to us! :)

  23. says

    We had preemie quadrupletts & were unable to provide more than a trickle of breastmilk. we had the option of Rx donated breast milk through a milkbank that was pasturized & loses nutrients ect… Also at a high cost per ounce.
    We found wonderful doners of both fresh & frozen breast milk through some online support groups like “Human milk for Human Babies” & “Eats on Feets “. Oue babies thrived for 6 months this way with out a drop of formula.

  24. Krista says

    I love how this article brings what I feel is some balance back into the traditional food community regarding breastfeeding. Maybe it’s just me, but I sometimes think that the glowing recommendations from the WAPF for the homemade infant formula can come across to a new mom as a bit of a booby trap, much in the same way that the commercial formula industry can sometimes undermine a new mom’s efforts by tempting her to admit defeat in her breastfeeding struggles too soon. And yet at the same time, it’s also important to make sure women are well-informed when they truly have tried everything to increase their milk supply, because as this article and the WAPF demonstrates, their are much healthier alternatives to commercial formula.

  25. says

    And not being able to, and me desperately looking online for herbal recommendations to boost supply (my son Weston is four months old). But I remembered what had helped with our first son, now 3.5 years, and that was drinking extra fluids. I tend to not be good at drinking fluids regularly so even downloaded an iPhone app to remind myself every 2 hours to down a pint-size glass of a very diluted lactofermented beverage or broth or raw kefir. Getting this gallon (yes, gallon!) of hydrating fluids (not plain water!) on a daily basis makes all the difference. Friends can’t believe how contented and easy Weston is. I really have to keep up with drinking these fluids though or my supply goes right down. I have read on Kellymom that fluids do not increase breastmilk production but I disagree 100% (hormonal issues or other biological reasons for low supply are a different story). It is worth giving this a try! I should mention that even with all these fluids I do not need to go to the bathroom more than once every couple of hours. It is important not to dehydrate yourself by drinking lots of plain water; you need electrolytes from broth or lactofermented drinks, coconut water, etc.

  26. Sara says

    I have been using donor milk to supplement my supply for my twins for almost a year now. The experience has been GREAT. I have met lots of other moms along the way and my babies have enjoyed the benefits of being breastfed. I use informal milk sharing routes. The milk banks are way too expensive, plus they pasteurize the milk.

    • says

      Yay! Secret Twin-Mom Club Handshake!

      I thought about getting donor milk for a bit for my twins, but then my milk came in. Not overloads- just enough to supply them with nothing left over.

  27. says

    I have been thinking about becoming a donor – whether to one of the moms I know personally or a bank – and wondering about the changes in milk as the baby gets older. (My son is almost 1 year old.) Do you know of any resources or information about how young of a baby would be able to take my donated milk? Is it still better than a homemade formula if the age of the donor’s baby is very different from the baby receiving the donated milk? Thanks for writing this, it is such an important message.

  28. says

    Thank you for bringing up this topic. As a lactation professional and a mom with low supply struggles, I’ve been on both sides of this issue.
    Having worked with mothers with low supply I can’t stress enough how important it is to get the information out there on ways to boost supply. So many of the clients I encountered had absolutely *no idea* that milk supply can be re-built and automatically assumed they had to go to formula, whether commercial or homemade. I have found it a bit discouraging in the WAPF community (at least in my experience) how much emphasis is put on homemade formula and not much on ways to increase supply and the use of donor milk.
    As a mom with low supply with my last 2 babies, I know what a terrible struggle it is. I was so fortunate to have friend donate her surplus to us. I don’t have experience with homemade formula, but I do plan to use it with our next baby as a back up only if we can’t get enough donor milk.

  29. Pru says

    Thankyou for a fantastic article. I gave birth to our baby 2 weeks ago. He is 6 weeks premature and cannot yet feed from my breast as his sucking reflex has not kicked in yet. My milk supply is very low despite pumping 3 hourly since the day after birth. I guess we were both not ready for his birth. The hospital supplemented his diet with some commercial cows milk formula as I was not making enough. Despite my concerns about formula I did not feel I was in a position to challenge the pediatrician’s wisdom. My baby is now in a major children’s hospital after being admitted with bleeding from the bowel due to, they believe, a cow’s milk allergy. I know that he would have also been receiving some cow’s milk protein through the milk he was receiving from me, but I am on a relatively low dairy diet. I wish that my hospital had access to donated breast milk and that this would have been the first choice instead of formula supplementation.
    My milk still has not come in, but the suggestions you have provided will hopefully help so that when my little guy is able to eat again I can keep up.
    Thank you for a great blog!.

  30. Jennifer V says

    Thank you! I need this article for so many reasons. My milk problems stem from the stupid decision to get breast implants at 19 years old. Even at that time, I asked the doctor “Can I still breastfeed if I do this?” he replied, “of course!” Well, 14 years later, I discovered that wasn’t true. I had the surgery in 1994 and it was done differently than today. So, I get a few “tease” drops of milk but that is it. Someone used the word “devastating” and that it exactly what it is when you so desperately want to breast feed but cannot. And, everyone wants to know why…even that stranger lady at Starbucks glaring at you for ordering caffeinated coffee with an 8 week old in tow. I had my second darling daughter 10 weeks ago and I tried very hard AGAIN to BF, but no dice. A very dear friend knew the potential for my inability to breast feed and gave me everything she had stored up from her daughters birth a few months earlier. She is truly an angel. My daughter got breast milk exclusively for the first month until I could figure out what to do. I hated the idea of commercial formula, but my first daughter thrived on it and is glowing, healthy and intelligent. I started out with commercial but the homemade option kept nagging at me so I went for it since I am so blessed with a supply of high quality raw milk and cream. It has been so great so far. There has been a great reduction in spit up, she sucks it down delicious although a bit of constipation. I will monitor her pee…thank you to the mom who mentioned it. I also recently met a mom from my book club who happened to mention a breast milk stash she didn’t know what to do with…another angel. I think milk sharing is a great idea. My daughter gets one breast milk bottle a day and then the homemade formula. I feel so lucky to have women willing to share their amazing milk when I can’t provide ( sniff sniff). Thank you for posting this without judgment. We judge ourselves enough, don’t we? To moms who can donate to those of us who cannot provide, please do it! Just put the information out into the universe and I know you will find the mom who desperately needs you. And for those moms who need it, ask! I think even a little bit helps the baby. I am grateful for the homemade formula. Thanks moms who shared their experiences with using it, it really helps me feel okay about it!

  31. says

    Beautiful post, Jenny! A few weeks ago I was clearing out photos from my laptop (I need my hard drive back!) and I ran across a bunch of you. Apparently my husband took them at the WAPF Conference last year because he knows I’m a huge fan, lol! How could I not be with brave and honest posts like these. Thank you!

  32. Becky says

    Why is it unethical to charge for your milk? I have no children, so this isn’t a personal issue or anything, but it seems like if someone goes to the time and trouble of getting extra milk, they should be able to charge for a needed commodity. People pay for formula for their babies. Why shouldn’t they pay for high quality milk? It’s great if people want to donate milk for those who can’t afford it, but if they want to make a little extra cash, why does that fall into the “unethical” category?

    • Jenny says

      Because when money can be had it opens the room for adulteration, which is very angerous for babies who rely solely on this one form of food. There are no resources to otherwise prevent that in mother-to-mother milk sharing which is why removing money from the equation is a protective step at this time.

  33. Nina says

    Nice post! I am a mom who was an over producer. Unfortunately I didn’t find out about donating milk until well into the first year, but at that point I was able to find a family in need of milk. We went through Human Milk for Human Babies, and so gave the milk directly to the family. This family in particular had it tough because their child had issues with dairy and was not thriving on formula or donated milk where the mothers were eating dairy. I happened to be dairy free (amongst other things), and so it felt so good to be able to help her nourish her child. It was amazing to watch the progression of the baby, and how she learned to walk…people helping people. That’s how it should be…I know not everyone wants to milk share, but passing around the word that people are out there and willing to do it is SO IMPORTANT! Hopefully with my next child my supply will be just as prolific as it was with my first, and I will be able to donate much more milk :)

  34. says

    I had to return to work for a few months, when my son was 5 months old. It was sudden I only had a day or two to prepare. I was given milk from a friend in a playgroup until I could get a stash of my own. My sister and I both nurse each others babies when we are babysitting. Her son is 7 months old, mine is 20. I have two daughters, the 8 year old nursed for 3 years, and my 3 year old is almost weaned. I consider myself lucky to have been able to nurse my oldest daughter as long as I did. I had no hospital support and the WIC videos were vhs of women who I didnt relate with. If I had had any problems, I would not have had anywhere to turn. I love this post!

  35. says

    Hi! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when browsing from my iphone. I’m trying to find a theme or
    plugin that might be able to correct this issue. If you have
    any recommendations, please share. With thanks!

  36. Sally JPA says

    So glad you wrote this! When we got near the end of our home study process for adoption, I started lactation induction . . . with the expectation it would be six months to a year or more before we adopted, and that I would have plenty of time to induce and even pump and freeze milk! Instead, we (amazingly, yes) got a call less than two weeks later that a mom had just given birth and then chosen us to adopt her son, should we agree. We got on a plane that afternoon.

    I had the help of great lactation consultants (though not at the hospital where he was born, but that’s another story), but my boobs just weren’t ready, and our new son didn’t take well to me using a supplemental system at the breast. It was really hard to give up the idea of breastfeeding him–I wanted the bonding as well as the enormous health benefits; it still hurts to think about not having been able to do it. But, over time, through Eats on Feets and Human Milk For Human Babies, more than 15 donor moms came to my rescue, and I was able to provide our son exclusively with breast milk for the first four months of his life, after the first three days on formula before we flew home. (Then, at month four, he developed milk and soy protein intolerance, and I couldn’t find donated milk free of those for him. I wanted him on breast milk for at least a year, but I’m discovering parenthood is nothing if not a continual compromise between my ideals and reality.) I can’t even tell you how much it means to me that so many breastfeeding moms donated milk to us; it’s beyond words. . . . I think our son must have the coolest probiotic combinations in his gut now, too, from the various milk mamas.

    There is some risk with breast milk sharing, but if you follow certain precautions, you can reduce those risks enormously, and then you can have the benefits of breast milk . . . which far outweigh the risks, in my mind. I think this post at PhD in Parenting covers the risks and benefits well: http://www.phdinparenting.com/blog/2010/11/28/risks-of-informal-breastmilk-sharing-versus-formula-feeding.html

  37. Emily S. says

    Hi there! I was doing some searching and got linked to this old post, but I happen to be a regular reader too! I have the exact problem with my son turning 9 months and not responding to the pump anymore. We are going through the freezer supply fast. I’m going to try your recommendations and hopefully those do the trick! Did you transition your son to cow’s milk at one year for while you were at work?

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