Milk-Sharing: A Model For Motherly Support

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As World Breastfeeding Week draws to a close, I wanted to look at a pretty old-fashioned practice that has gained a lot of current attention. With more focus on nursing than ever before, milk-sharing has started to enter into lots of breastfeeding conversations. The internet and milk-banks have stepped in to popularize a process that’s been happening for centuries, though normally on a much more personal level.

Obviously, we’re all familiar with the concept of a nursemaid, but even after the decline of the aristocracy, milk-sharing wasn’t abnormal. When my mother had my sister, she produced enough milk to help a friend who had her baby prematurely. Even after my mom was done breastfeeding her own children, she continued to pump to help her friend. My mom found the practice to be pretty normal. She had a friend who needed help, and she could provide it. It was pretty cut and dry.

In small communities, milk-sharing has always been seen as mothers helping support the families around them. After childbirth, churches would coordinate new moms to help support each other in a multiple of ways; emotionally, mentally and physically when necessary. Now, MOPS groups are more likely to have arts & crafts, guest-speakers and garden parties. Not that those things aren’t important, but I don’t know that they can replace that type of female bonding that happened in decades past.

Today, mothers looking for breastmilk don’t reach out to friends with infants, they search on the internet. Milk banks are extremely expensive and they make the donation process long and tedious. So many moms are using swap websites like Eats on Feets, Only the Breast and MilkShare. These websites don’t provide the same community support, but they do give mothers a chance to help each other through a very difficult time. While many people might be concerned about using milk from an unknown or little-known source, these women trust the caring nature of people trying to help. And, it must be said, they are extremely dedicated to providing breastmilk for their children.

As World Breastfeeding Week comes to a close, I hope we use the lessons of early milk-sharing to influence our attitudes about breastfeeding today. It’s not just about nourishing your child, although that’s obviously the main priority for all of us, we can use nursing to help build up support groups for new mothers. We can lean on each other when things get rough. Just like milk-sharing, parents are turning to their online communities for insight, advice and a place to vent. The internet is providing the support, and now the milk-sharing experience, that used to happen in neighborhoods and towns. So if you’re looking for help getting breastmilk for your child or if you want to help out a family in need, hop on one of the sites and see what’s it all about. Consider it just one more way to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week!

(Photo: Milkyway Milk Sharing – another great site to visit!)