There are many reasons that a woman may not be able to breastfeed her baby. Undergoing chemotherapy is one of them. I was going to be in chemo from the end of my pregnancy until she was 4 months old (at least) and my milk would be toxic. I knew right away when I was told it was a no go for me, that I wanted to try and get breastmilk for my baby. I was lucky to have a community of advocates to help make this happen for Daphne and our family. A very organized mom friend and a nurse/lactation consultant friend led up the effort. They became her “Milk Truck,” organizing and managing the screening and collection of breastmilk from almost a dozen donor moms in my community. Most of these women were friends and acquaintences and they had babies somewhat close in age. Some shared from a stash they already had. I also joined a couple of online breastmilk sharing groups (“Human Milk for Human Babies” and “Eats on Feets”) to get milk when we were in Seattle regularly for treatment, as travelling long distances with frozen milk is an extra challenge, and babies go through A LOT of milk!!! Some parents worry about getting milk from people they don’t know, but the bottom line for us was that if these moms were willing to share the milk they were feeding to their own babies, we really weren’d worried about it. Also, we asked/most moms offered up information about their diet and medications. The sharing of breastmilk was about love and trust. We connected with a regular donor in the city who was an amazing producer (she had twins!) and that is what really carried us through. Soon after Daphne was born we recognized the necessity of a chest freezer to store it all. And not long after that we acquired a small fridge as well. Both lived on our porches so moms could drop off both frozen and fresh milk at their convenience.
Managing the breastmilk was definitely an ordeal, and adjusting to life with the bottle business took some time. But we settled into a routine of sorts, tweaking it here and there, depending on the circumstances. We tried all sorts of different bottles, with different nipple shapes and sizes and venting systems. I could do a whole post just about them. It is a whole world I knew nothing about, kind of like cloth diapers when I started with my older baby. We settled on some Pura metal bottles with a wide mouth that she seemed to like best and were faster to heat when we were on the go. We also used Avent wide mouth glass bottles when we were home. We bought a bottle warmer but didn’t use it much as she didn’t mind the milk cool after a while. We usually used a thermos with hot water to heat individual bottles as that seemed faster. We experimented quite a bit until we figured out a system that worked.
Breastmilk is like gold and we treated it that way. We were very strategic with it, especially when we were going to Seattle, defrosting just enough for the journey and arranging pick ups for when we arrived. We sometimes used dry ice if we were bringing a big stash of milk to or from Orcas and also when we took a trip on the airplane. We had to go through it all regularly and make sure we were using the oldest milk first (it has a freezer life of 6 months, more if in a deep freeze). We also did our best to age match the milk, and would often mix in fresh milk with frozen, or older milk with stronger (more fat) milk. Breast milk is amazing, and you can really appreciate that when you line up a bunch of it from different people. It looks and tastes different from person to person and day to day. It has more fat content when the babies are younger. Daphne definitely preferred certain people’s milk, and fresh milk. We had to mix it sometimes just to get her to drink the milk she didn’t like as much, because there was no way we were letting any of it go to waste. This was the most amazing gift we received during my treatment. Truly. That my baby got the nutritional and immune-boosting benefits of breastmilk even though I couldn’t nurse her. It was really sad when I realized and accepted I couldn’t breastfeed. It was such a major part of my motherhood experience with my first baby, I am so grateful my second baby got to have it for almost 6 months exclusively. I credit all the Milk Truck mamas with keeping her healthy all that time (beyond a runny nose here and there), especially considering she accompanied us to all my medical appointments and was exposed to a lot more germs than baby Laurel ever was.
I had never paid attention to how much milk my older daughter drank as I exclusively breastfed her. I didn’t have to quantify it. She had a few bottles here and there during her infancy, but otherwise just nursed on demand, straight from the source. She relied on me for all her nourishment for a year. But I realized quickly that it was super helpful to have others be able to help feed Daphne while I was in treatment, especially during the night so I could rest. My husband was her primary caretaker and they developed an extra special bond from the beginning that he never had with our first until she was over a year old. In fact she developed stronger bonds with a few people because they could feed her and that was a major blessing. She stayed overnight away from us from an early age, out of necessity, and it made me realize it might have been worth doing the first time around. Lots of lessons learned.
We started to run out of breastmilk when Daphne was around 5 months old and decided it was time to let the Milk Truck go. We began mixing formula in and slowly tapering her off of it. I admit, it was a rough transition for her system. There were days of terrible, tearful constipation. Where she literally couldn’t get the poop out and cried in pain. It was so sad to witness and we felt like terrible parents. We tried all sorts of things to help and used some natutral remedies/supplements regularly for a while until her system adjusted, which thankfully it did. But the switch reinforced the value of the breastmilk and how grateful I am that her tiny, sensitive system started out on something truly designed for it. Also, formula is expensive. Another cost, along with disposable diapers, that was not part of our budget the first time around. Then again, the convenience factor is real, and I can now truly appreciate the appeal and benefits of the powdered cow milk. We started pushing food on Daphne at a much earlier age than her sister, as I still felt strange feeding her milk meant for another species. I have always been sensitive to dairy, especially cow dairy, so it has never been a big part of my diet, and real food seemed easier, especially with another child we were already preparing meals for. She drinks plain water throughout the day and we are down to milk bottles just at nap and bed time, and we have been watering them down and mixing in other dairy alternatives. I hope we can be done with the whole bottle business soon.
Overall, I have so much love and gratitude for the effort and consideration of all the moms who participated in the Milk Truck. An unmatched gift in a challenging time. Thank you, thank you, thank you! It is a lot of work, and not for everyone, but I am glad we were able to do it.
|HUMAN MILK STORAGE – QUICK REFERENCE CARD|
|Freshly expressed milk|
|Warm room||80-90°F / 27-32°C||3-4 hours|
|Room temperature||61-79°F / 16-26°C||4-8 hours
(ideal: 3-4 hours)
|Insulated cooler / ice packs||59°F / 15°C||24 hours|
|Refrigerated Milk (Store at back, away from door)|
|Refrigerator (fresh milk)||32-39°F / 0-4°C||3-8 days
(ideal: 72 hrs)
|Refrigerator (thawed milk)||32-39°F / 0-4°C||24 hours|
|Frozen Milk (Do not refreeze! Store at back, away from door/sides)|
|Freezer compartment inside refrigerator (older-style)||Varies||2 weeks|
|Self-contained freezer unit of a refrigerator/freezer||<39°F / <4°C||6 months|
|Separate deep freeze||0°F / -18°C||12 months
(ideal: 6 months)
|These guidelines are for milk expressed for a full-term healthy baby. If baby is seriously ill and/or hospitalized, discuss storage guidelines with baby’s doctor.|
|To avoid waste and for easier thawing & warming, store milk in 1-4 ounce portions. Date milk before storing. Milk from different pumping sessions/days may be combined in one container – use the date of the first milk expressed. Avoid adding warm milk to a container of previously refrigerated or frozen milk – cool the new milk before combining. Breastmilk is not spoiled unless it smells really bad or tastes sour.|