Christine Park

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Facebook for... Milk Sharing?

Anyone who's given birth in the last decade or so... has encountered what my friend affectionately calls, the "boob nazis." That is, the well-meaning nurses, doulas, moms, and other "lactivists" who push the new mom to breast-feed their newborn.

I nursed both my kids, Sydney for 10 months and Isaiah for 7 months. So I'm a firm believer in breast-feeding, both for selfish and unselfish reasons. Obviously, the health benefits for the baby are numerous... but for me, breast-feeding melted off the pregnancy pounds faster than I could say "postpartum!" So even after I went back to work a couple months after each was born, I faithfully toted my breast pump with me everywhere I went. And I mean EVERYWHERE. I remember asking my photographer to stand outside in the rain while I pumped in the live truck before I went on air. I remember pumping in a tiny unisex bathroom in a New York City club while waiting patrons pounded on the door outside. I was committed, and my cup runneth over... meaning I had a huge oversupply. Both freezers were stocked full... and I found myself reluctantly tossing bags and bags of frozen breast milk as they expired. Several relatives and friends shared similar stories with me... of valuable breast milk going down the drain.

I first heard about milk sharing during a newscast one day, when I read a story about a man whose wife passed away in childbirth and area moms were donating their breast milk. But there's a stigma around it in modern society, especially in the age of HIV. Remember the uproar last year over Salma Hayek who nursed a malnourished African baby? There are milk banks that screen and pasteurize donated milk and give priority to premature and very ill babies. The milk is often very expensive: $3 to $5 per ounce, upwards of $100 for a day's supply.

My co-anchor Matt Keller recently showed me this article in Time about how Facebook has become a way to connect moms who milk share. The reasons for milk sharing are compelling... a mother who can't breastfeed because she's on chemotherapy. Another is on active duty and has to leave her baby behind. Honestly, I don't know how I would personally feel about feeding my child a stranger's breastmilk, but there are plenty of people who participate.

A new network called Eats on Feets — a play on Meals on Wheels — uses Facebook to connect women whose babies need supplemental breast milk to women nearby who have extra milk to give away. Time reports the network has grown to 98 local groups, spanning all 50 states in the U.S. and 22 countries. More than 70 matches have been reported so far, with milk coming not only in bags and jars, but also sometimes directly from the source. Here's a link to the Northern California chapter. The founder posts this warning, and I would just like to re-post it to remind any readers who are thinking about milk sharing: KNOW THY SOURCE. While it is true that tribe feeding offers MANY benefits, there is ALWAYS the risk of disease/contamination.

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