I’m a sucker for trashy magazines. Closer, Look, Heat. I buy them all and devour them, even though it’s the same features in each one, with the same library stock photos. I gorge on celebrity gossip and seasonal fashion and then I feel a bit sick and dirty afterwards. Love it.
But do you know what I don’t love? Anti-breastmilk features in magazines. Heat, I am looking at you here. Page 26, of this week’s issue. Small write up on Alicia Silverstone’s milk sharing venture. Lovely, thought I. I like Alicia Silverstone, she seems a good egg. Oh. Oh whats THIS? “A doubtless worthy cause, but one that makes us feel a bit icky”. Oh HELL NAW. Heat: You have a circulation 261,715 per week, and a readership of 1,320,000 (figures from July-December 2012). 83.7% of your readers are women, aged 15-44. Many of your target audience are Mothers who are breastfeeding. Or have breastfed. Or who will breastfeed. I used to love buying Heat every Tuesday, sitting down and reading it, Brownies shovelled into my face whilst I breastfed my baby. My youngest fed until she was 22 months old. That’s a lot of Tuesday Heat Breastfeeds. I will no longer be purchasing Heat. Milk sharing, as described by Heat, is not ‘a worthy cause’. It is not even a cause. It is contributing to every Mother and baby’s human right to breastfeed, giving access to breastmilk should they so wish. This isn’t a charity Gala. This is real fucking life, and it’s a big deal. Milk Banking, Milk Sharing, even cross feeding are concepts that don’t have nearly enough awareness around them. It’s all a bit shrouded in mystery, but a vital service that needs to be spoken about.
I am extremely pro-breastfeeding. I don’t get irate or animated about many social issues, but this I do. It is a political issue. It is a feminist issue. I have been publicly snarked at for breastfeeding. I have also been publicly applauded and supported for breastfeeding. I’m no longer nursing my youngest, and this makes me feel a bit sad actually. I struggled with parenting, but whatever happened I knew that nursing was a bond we had that couldn’t be broken. The fact that it was so good for her, and her brother before her, was just a happy aside. Incidentally, the most supportive people I’ve experienced of breastfeeding, are men. Young ones, under 30 in most cases. Now, this shocked me when I first started out. I thought women would be my main cheerleaders, all women together, we shall overcome. Not so. It was the boys, the men that were. I once gushed to an extended family member about what a good job she’d done bringing her boys up because when they visited me and my then 3 day old baby girl, they didn’t bat an eyelid when I constantly fed the baby. It didn’t phase them. They came and hugged me goodbye mid feed. THE most supportive and gung ho friend, was my friend Seann. Tattooed, pierced, lairy, drummer in a metal band. Loved babies, and applauded what a good job I was doing for mine, which definitely and explicitly included nursing them. My friend Simon, whose sister is against the odds, continuing to breastfeed. We spoke about reflux, and elimination diets. I was floored. I was in awe. It’s the support and acceptance and YOU GO GIRL of ‘uninterested parties’ which actually helps the most. This helps to normalise breastfeeding. Hollie McNish, poet, spoke about this very recently, in a spoken word youtube video that quickly, and rightly, went viral “I think we should try to get used to this”. We should. Never a truer word spoken. Breasts are not icky. Breasts are not primarily sexy. Breastmilk is not icky. Breastmilk saves lives. Heat magazine, wrap your editorial heads around this.
Let’s think about this. Those of you who donate blood. This is a good thing, right? I’ve had tranfusions. Thank you, blood donors. You save lives. If a magazine called something like this out as being ‘icky’, then there would be an immediate public outcry. Actually, it probably wouldn’t get past the sub-editors because claiming that donating a life saving property is anything other than fantastic is nothing short of totally ludicrous. Breastmilk is the same. This isn’t a Breast V Formula rant. This is fact. I asked around, and did Scientific Proper Research. No, I didn’t. I asked for retweets and help via Twitter and Facebook and got an overwhelming positive response. 31 Retweets. Countless mothers, tweeting or commented simply ‘I donated’, offering me their overwhelmingly positive and empowering stories, via e-mail (thankyou). Pauline, who has donated milk describes it as “If I’d had a sick or early baby, if have been so grateful if someone had donate milk. It’s like blood or organs… If you’d take it, you should donate it (if you can!)” Pauline elaborates, explaining “When my second son was born and breast feeding came much more easily, I decided that I wanted to offer other babies the same nutritional benefits that I was fortunate enough to be able to offer him. I knew that mums of premmies often struggled to express much – if any – milk. I also know that breast milk is the absolute gold standard nutrition for sick babies. Some babies die without breast milk.” There are formal milk banks, and milk sharing associations, but it can also be done informally, Mother to Mother, friend to friend. Emily, a Mother of two who donated milk formally after resarching via UKAMB writes “When my second son was 7 weeks old I saw a cry for help on a group page on facebook. A woman had given birth to her son prematurely, and as a result he had suffered some very severe complications. She had tried to establish supply but didn’t respond well to a pump and while her son was in the NICU, her supply dwindled. When she got her son home, she began to supplement with formula. Unfortunately, due to her sons medical issues the formula made him ill. She tried several types but they all seemed to have the same affect. She still didn’t have enough milk, but while she was rectifying that, she wanted to stop the formula so she got online onto milk sharing sites and forums, parenting groups, whatever she could find and ask for Mums to donate milk. I contacted her. Ber son was just a week older than mine, and I started to pump for him. 6 weeks later, he is thriving, no more sickness or pain, all thanks to donor milk.”
“If for some reason I had to stop breastfeeding my babies, it would devastate me. I breastfeed because I know it to be of utmost importance to my children’s health and development. If I couldn’t do so, I would do my best to source donated breastmilk from another healthy woman, because milk from their own species is infinitely preferable to and less risky than a product manufactured from the milk of another species. Thank god formula exists for those times when it is needed. It surely saves the lives of babies who would otherwise starve. But the fact is, so does milk sharing.”
In a similar vein, Ann who has both used and contributed to a milk bank writes “I’m glad I did it, and I will never forget the gathering we were invited to where we were taken to the SCBU to see some of the tiny babies that would benefit from our donations, as well as meeting other mums who’d donated or whose babies had benefited. In fact, it’s making me well up again just thinking about it. Everyone was so grateful for even the paltry litre of milk I was able to donate and quite honestly, far from being icky, I think it’s an amazing thing to do (provided it’s handled properly – that is, you are given a health check beforehand, don’t indulge in risky behaviour and the milk is pooled and pasteurised) particularly for prem or very sick babies.”
Here’s the breaks: Breastfeeding is hard for some. If it came easy for you, then excellent. But some Mother’s, for various reasons, struggle. Some mothers are so ill post birth, that they cannot feed their babies in those first crucial first days. Some mothers die, maternal deaths still happen post birth. Milk sharing, and milk banks give them the chance to be able to provide their babies with milk. Sometimes, it’s in conjunction with mixed feeding, and sometimes it’s to top up the milk that they are able to produce themselves. In any case, I cannot actually think of a singular bad thing about milk banks. Icky? Please. Get a fucking clue.
For more information about Milk Banking and Sharing, have a butchers at UKAMB: UK Association for milk banking http://www.ukamb.org/