Saturday, March 5, 2011

Human Milk for Human Babies

"Breast milk is not a scarce commodity, it's a free-flowing resource."
Emma Kwasnica

I've recently become involved with an amazing group, Human Milk for Human Babies, formerly known as Eats on Feets Global.  This is one of the most amazing movements, and I am incredibly honored to be a part of it.

There are mommies like me who can't breastfeed their babies, or mommies who breastfeed but don't make enough milk.  When I was hospitalized, my breastfed baby needed food.  Formula is food, but not the food I would have chosen for him - breast milk is a superior food, made for baby humans.  Cow's milk is made for baby cows, and doesn't offer the same benefits, especially in a baby's GI track - which is of particular concern to me, since IBD can be hereditary.  I reached out to my local milk bank - but I found out that not only is the milk $4 per ounce ($120 a day!!), we couldn't have it, even if we wanted it.  My baby was healthy and full-term.  So, David got formula - and I'm glad it was there.  It was not an easy transition - his tummy was upset, and he really hated the taste.  But, food is food, and he eventually adjusted.  He's done well on formula - he's healthy, strong, and smart.  As my readers know, I don't have anything against people who choose formula as their baby's food.

If I'd had a choice at the time, though, I wouldn't have chosen to feed my son formula.

I learned about Eats on Feets through you, the readers of this blog.  I became friends with Emma Kwasnica, the group's founder on Facebook, and I was blown away by her passion and dedication.  At one point, she posted an amazing photo - a friend of hers was suddenly hospitalized, and she nursed her friend's baby while she was incapacitated.  The picture brought me to tears.  One image encapsulated the philosophy of milk sharing - that in an emergency, women could rely on each other.

Emma nursing a hospitalized friend's baby.  Don't like to see boobs?  Read this.

This is the heart of milk sharing and milk donation - that in an emergency situation, mothers who want their babies to be exclusively breastfed have that option, even if real life circumstances don't allow for it.  If a mother wants to use formula, fine by me - but if she doesn't, there should be a way for her to find an Emma!

Eats on Feets has become "Human Milk for Human Babies", a name that better describes its mission and can be translated across the globe (there's even a chapter in Kuwait!).   Mothers like me can meet local mothers like Emma, who have a surplus of milk to provide.  Not necessarily boob-to-mouth; most donation happens with the help of a pump and a freezer.  Some mamas overproduce, and they have mountains of bags of milk stored, more than their baby can consume before it expires.  Thanks to HM4HB and other milk-sharing connections, that milk can find its way to a local baby in need.

One of the coolest things about this is that HM4HB is not just getting babies milk, it's helping women connect and become friends.  While you can use milk sharing networks to just get milk and move on, I'm amazed at the real life connections that are happening.  Donor and recipient mommies are getting to know each other, having coffee, setting up playdates, visiting each other's homes.  There is a community growing as a result of the sharing.  Unlike donating to a milk bank, donor mommies can often hold the babies their milk is feeding, watch them grow and thrive on the precious gift of liquid gold.  In a world where technology so often distances, this is creating a village where none existed.

Are there risks to milk sharing?  Yes, of course.  There are risks to everything in life.  There are risks to formula-feeding (I fed my kid bugs, thank you Similac).  HM4HB isn't promising a risk-free solution, just a forum in which parents can have a choice - an informed choice.   Previously, the only choice moms like me could make was which brand of formula to buy.  Now, we can choose if we want to go check things out on the donation road.

As a recipient, ultimately, you trust that the woman who is donating is healthy and living a healthy life.  If she's breastfeeding her own child, you simply trust that she cares about her own baby enough to avoid things that could make her milk dangerous.  You can pasteurize the milk at home (instructions here), and many recipients ask for copies of their donor's prenatal medical records or request additional screening for safety.

Check it out!  If you have milk to donate, wouldn't it be nice to know exactly where that milk is going?  If you really hate feeding your baby formula, why not explore donated breast milk as an option?

Human Milk for Human Babies - Website
Find your local chapter here
Frequently Asked Questions


  1. I still tear up every time I look at that picture of my "milk baby"(Dagny is her name). Thank you for writing this post, Erin, and for spreading awareness about the power of community-building among women ...and of the sheer awesomeness of mother's milk.

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  2. Thank you Erin- a wonderful article!!!! and yes, I'm tearing up too.

  3. Wonderful post! I'm glad to have had a playdate with the little boy to whom I gave a little milk and helped find a LOT of milk. He is so cute and his mom is so lovely!

  4. We've received milk from at least 6 mommas thanks to HM4HB. Some we've hung out with getting to know, others were a quick exchange. All of them have our gratitude!

  5. I have nursed another mama's baby. It is quite a moving experience. She was also unable to nurse.

  6. Do you want to talk about your experience of donating milk or receiving milk? What were the benefits for your baby?
    I'm a french journalist based in Montreal looking for testimonies for a 52 minutes report.
    Please don't hesitate to contact me :

    Thank you!

  7. Such a wonderful network!
    I can't imagine that your local milk bank makes you pay for milk, here in France this is free (tkanks to a national association and volunteers), even if breastfeeding is not greatly supported it is helped. Back in the 70ies my mum gave her milk to premature babies... I have no surplus to give but would have done it if possible.