Tuesday, 14 February 2012

I Am Milk I Am Red Hot Kitchen

I started this post to tell a funny (to me) story about something that was said to me by a male nurse but it turned into a word-vomit post about breastfeeding. The breastfeeding vs formula debate is not my fight. I respect everyone's right to choose what is best for their family and their body. 

I donated blood last week (O-neg. They love me.) After I signed in and had my iron checked, I filled in my donor eligibility questionnaire. One of the questions asks if you have recently been tested for HIV. I have recently been tested for HIV, so I filled in the "yes" box.

The next level of screening was talking to a nurse about the answers I submitted. My nurse was a young guy - really friendly and chatty. So we started going over my answers and we get to the HIV question. There's no room for explanation on the questionnaire - just a straight yes or no - so it's the nurse's job to get the history. I told him about how I'm donating my excess breast milk to the Vancouver milk bank and in order to do so, I had to go through a full screening process which included an HIV test.

(I realize that this post sounds a little "oh look at me and all my do-goodery, spreading my fluids around without abandon." (gross) But I promise, it's not. There's a point. I'm getting to it.)

The nurse was interested in the milk bank donating process so we talked a little about that. Which was fine. I mean, since giving birth to Grady I have become so whatever about discussing my body and bodily functions with medical personnel (and non-medical personnel. Sorry, Turtle! And thanks for letting me talk to you in extreme detail about my butt!) So we're talking about breastfeeding and breast milk and he asks me if I'm going to keep donating. Which confused me a little. I mean, it's not that big of a deal for me to freeze the milk that Grady doesn't drink (which is all of my pumped milk. Sir won't take anything that isn't straight from the source.) (The source is my boobs.) But then he clarified that what he meant was, am I going to keep donating breast milk once Grady is weaned.

You guys. I am so grateful that I am able to breastfeed. I love nursing Grady. I feel lucky to have an abundance of breast milk. I feel fucking awesome that I can donate to a milk bank and help other babies and mamas who are not able to breastfeed. But I am not a fan of pumping. I started pumping to relieve pressure (I have always been fairly small-chested so my giant breastfeeding knockers were painful to deal with at first) and now I pump to maintain my supply when I am at work. Honestly, I feel better about donating than I really have a right to. I mean, I would still have to pump even if I wasn't donating the pumped milk. I just freeze it and drop it off at the bank instead of pouring it down the drain.

I didn't know what to say so I didn't say anything. I have a lot of feelings about breastfeeding but I find it difficult to talk about because I don't want to offend anyone. I am 29 years old. My mom could not breastfeed me so I was formula fed from day one. My mom still feels guilty. Twenty-nine years later she feels guilty. She cried when she talked to me about it after Grady was born and we had successfully established breastfeeding. Breastfeeding - or not breastfeeding, whether by choice or circumstance - is an emotionally charged topic. So I don't talk about it. Or think about it. I just feed my kid, pump when I can't feed him, and drop the extra milk off at the milk bank.

Until I was in a blood donor pre-screening room with this dude nurse who innocently asked if I was planning to pump and donate breast milk indefinitely and suddenly I can't stop thinking about it. Once the silence stretched into awkward territory he started talking about how a woman's body continues to make breast milk as long as it's needed and how pumping would trigger my body to keep producing milk, etc. I just sat there with what must have been a stupefied look on my face because he suddenly just stopped talking about my breastfeeding goals and got back to my questionnaire.

I don't mean to make him sound like he was pressuring me at all because that wasn't the case. He was just genuinely curious about the whole thing and we were having a nice conversation until he managed to stun me. But he got me thinking. Could a woman continue to pump breast milk after her baby was weaned? Don't get me wrong, I'm not planning to pump after Grady is weaned. I'm just curious. The conversation made me realize that I take a lot for granted in my relationship with breastfeeding. I had an extremely rough first two weeks that made me question whether or not I could breastfeed my kid (two weeks that the wonderful ladies of the internet helped me get through) and then it was smooth sailing from there on out. I assume that I will be able to feed my kid for as long as I want to but that may not be my reality.

Basically I'm all twisted up over breastfeeding now and I'm curious to hear about other feeding (breast or formula) experiences. No judgements here - I fully respect the choices everyone makes for their own family - just curiosity.


  1. I am of absolutely no help whatsoever since I don't have a kid and have never breastfed.

    But like you, I don't judge. Whatever works for a woman and her kid, then she should go with it. It's up to the mother because it's her body and she knows best, she knows what her child wants/needs/takes.

    Also lady, high five for your awesomeness. I had no idea women could donate breast milk! Or maybe this is just in Canada because you people are nice and respect you know, rights and needs of others.

    Wish I could help, but I don't know!

  2. Ha ha! I think this story is especially funny because it's a GUY earnestly asking.

    I know it's possible to keep pumping milk after the baby weans (that's how milk cows continue to provide milk), but I don't know anyone who's done it. I kept pumping for awhile after my firstborn weaned, because he weaned himself before I was ready (and before he was a year old, so I didn't know what to do), and I was upset, and I was hoping it was a nursing strike and he was going to go back to it. But I never could get much with the pump, even when he was nursing, so pretty quickly I gave it up.

  3. I believe your body will keep producing milk as long as there is demand. I think that was the whole thing with the wet nurse back when ladies didn't breastfeed - they handed that task off to someone else.

    The second Jordan was done nursing, I was done producing boob food. Man, did I hate pumping.

  4. I don't have kids (yet) but I was breast fed until I was 3 (in additional to solid food). I've also heard that in 3rd world countries women breast feed their kids until they're 6 or 7 (and even older) because it's the best way to feed the kid when there's a shortage of food.

    I had never heard that you can donate breast milk and I think it's an awesome idea! When/if I have babies I'd probably do the same, although I doubt I'd continue after they'd weaned.

    Definitely a curious topic!

  5. As you know, Gavin was born 9 weeks premature and was unable to feed himself by mouth when he was first born. He spent 5 weeks in the hospital. I spent 6 weeks trying to pump to no avail. That first week he came home and I was still trying to pump was pure hell. So, I quit. I was pretty hard on myself and very disappointed at the time. But, it was more about ME and less about whether I thought my son would be OK on formula (like you, I was also a formula fed baby). Now that Gavin is 15 months old, I can tell you with confidence I no longer think about (or care) what he ate for the first year of his life. He's a healthy, thriving little boy who is the love of my life. Women should have the freedom to do what they want with their bodies. I think it's amazing that you've been able to breastfeed Grady and then some. Once he weans, you do what you feel is best and what feels natural for your own situation.

  6. I'm breastfeeding Meredith exclusively except for a little bit of solid foods now that she's 6 months, which I hate because of the extra work and the mess and the sadness that she no longer needs just me. I don't care what other people do although I wish every mom would at least give breastfeeding a good try.

    Anyway, I think the reason that breastfeeding means so much to me is because it's one area that my body hasn't failed me in regard to reproduction. In order to conceive I needed medical technology. I couldn't have the natural birth I wanted and went through hell before my C-section. But breastfeeding works, and it has been amazing for so many reasons but chiefly because of the bonding thing. I don't care if it's cheesy or what, but that's the reason that I am going to nurse her as long as we can.

    Pumping, however, is terrible. I only do it out of necessity and I don't think I could ever keep it up if it wasn't to feed my kid.

  7. Because I don't have or want kids yet, and because I'll need to remove my breasts due to very elevated risk of breast cancer (BRCA gene mutation blah blah blah), I will probably never breast feed. And I already feel guilty.

    I wasn't breastfed because I was a pain-in-the-ass baby with allergies or somesuch issue and I turned out fine. Yet the older I get and the more new moms I know, the worse I feel.

    I know many women can't breastfeed for many reasons but it feels inherently selfish for me to have a surgery to better MY life yet sort of screw over my future kids. I know it's not, but I still worry.

    My future self definitely thanks you and women like you who donate their extra supply. I'll be hitting up those milk banks someday.

  8. Whoa, you just blew my mind. I never even thought about donating milk. That is brilliant. Duh, how did I never think of that? Not that I've ever breastfed, as I've never had a child. But if I ever do, I hope I have the ability to breastfeed AND the opportunity to donate some of it.

    But yeah. Continuing to pump and donate after your baby has weaned. What an interesting thing to think about. I feel like I need to go quietly contemplate all of this because again, whoa.

  9. Huh. I never would have thought about keep pumping after a baby is weaned. Whenever I have kids it's always been the plan to breastfeed (I was breastfed and so it's always been a 'norm' in my family) (that is if I can and all that jazz) but I probably would have been just as stunned as you if asked that question.

    It's an interesting dilemma. One I never would have considered for a million years.

  10. I just heard on the radio about some moms selling breast milk on the Internet, kind of like a black market scenario, which is ridiculous. I didn't know there were places you could donate milk either but it's a wonderful idea.

    I know what you mean about breastfeeding being a tricky subject. I didn't expect it to work for us, honestly. For some reason, before Eli was born, I equated small boobs with little milk production (which is foolish, I know now, but somehow that's what was stuck in my head). So when he took to it right away, I was amazed. It's been remarkably easy for us and I feel guilty saying so. When people ask me how it's going, I say something vague, like "ohhhh, it's OK", and then change the subject. But really, I've loved every minute of it. I don't want to be a Smug Breastfeeder and I have no issues with formula at all.

    I don't know how long I'm going to keep nursing. I'm nervous about when his teeth show up, but I'd like to keep going until he's a year or at least close to it provided he doesn't chew my tatas off. I don't hate pumping but I feel ridiculous doing it.

  11. I breastfed Kaylie until she was 8 months old. (We had a really rocky start, but after that it was smooth sailing.) I broke up with my boyfriend when she was 7 months old and started dating someone else when she was 8 months old and also started working again. Formula just seemed like the right thing to do. And there was a seemless transition and Kaylie liked formula. No problemo.

    When I went back to work after having Liliana, Noah stayed home with her. I tried to keep up nursing, but with Kaylie's activities and such, there were some days when I rarely saw Liliana (because Noah refused to take Kaylie to her activities, I'm trying to get over it). I stopped nursing her at 7 months. I was devastated. I wanted to keep nursing her. And then I plunged into a deep pit of depression. Literally. It was a good ol' time.

    Now, Preston is 10 months old and I'm still nursing him. I knew that I'd nurse him for a long time because of the simple fact that we cannot afford formula. (This is the same reason we use cloth diapers.) I love it. Your posting about the milk bank makes me wonder if we have one here because I always have had lots of milk, although I really hate pumping.

    Okay, so that was really long. I love breastfeeding because it's easy (for me) and convenient and always warm and it's FREE. I have no problem with formula, although Preston does and hates the stuff.

  12. I am not a mother, so I have not breastfed a child. But I have seen it from both sides. My sister in law breastfed all of her kids until they weened themselves (all before a year). Because of her work schedule she pumped, and all of the babies both fed off the breast and out of a bottle. A friend of mine who has two kids chose not to breastfeed (and for entirely selfish reasons, she wanted to drink as soon as the baby was out). Which is fine and is her choice, but I guess I did not like her reasons for not doing so.

  13. wow, i didn't know you could donate milk either! and don't diminish it - no matter why/what your reasons, you ARE awesome for doing it! that's so cool! :)

  14. Amaze-balls! There is no milk bank where I live, and so my excess pumped milk had to be poured down the drain :(
    I didn't breastfeed as my baby and my boobs did not match up. AT ALL. I did however express for a while and mix fed her with formula and breast milk so that she got the goodness for as long as possible. I went back to work when Asher was 10 weeks old, and my aim was to have my body back by then so that I could concentrate on work (not that that's happening!) so I give total kudos to you for what you're doing! Breastfeeding is such an amazing thing, and I'm hoping that one day I can experience that bond with my baby too :)

  15. I wish the whole milk bank thing was around when Sprog was wee. He REFUSED to breast feed. No way no how and no LC could get him to change his mind no matter how hard we tried.

    I could however produce milk for YEARS. No joke. It was freaking ridiculous and my doctor refused to give me anything to dry those puppies up. I could have fed a freaking NATION just not my own damn stubborn child.

  16. I nursed Graham until he weaned himself at 9 months. Nathan was a HORRIBLE nurser, and I gave up after ten weeks. Emily nursed until about 9 months.

    It was with her that I learned that once feedings went below 4+ times a day, my milk dried up. That's why my kids weaned themselves.

  17. Hi! I’ve never commented before, I just came across your blog a few weeks ago.

    I breastfed my little guy (who’s 3 now) till he was almost 19 months. He’d still be nursing now if I’d let him, but I weaned him when I did because it felt like the right time. To each her own, but I didn’t like the idea of him being able to ask for it outright by saying ‘Booby!’ or some such thing :P

    I pumped milk from the very beginning because I seemed to have a large supply, and my midwife suggested I consider donating. But then my son started nursing so often and I used the pumped milk for those rare times when I would go out and leave him with my husband or someone else. I have nothing against formula, but he ever once tasted it because my milk was always available to him! In some ways I wish I had donated…but it would have taken a lot of extra effort in terms of pumping, and in all honesty I just wasn’t into it. I pumped because I needed to, but I didn’t want to pump excessive amounts. And since I wasn’t away from my baby often, he was generally always latched on to me, so I’m not sure when I would have done all the extra pumping for a milk bank. It’s a very commendable thing to do though, for sure.

    I would have been equally dumbfounded by the question of donating milk AFTER your baby is weaned. I know people do it, but to me that’s slightly insane. I wouldn’t have done it, that’s for sure. The idea of still producing milk now and having to pump it…I was lucky to have a really easy time breastfeeding my son from the beginning, but even though it was an enjoyable experience there was sometimes discomfort (mastitis/general tenderness from milk supply/sore nipples to name a few!) – those are things I would deal with without even thinking about it for my own baby, but for donation?? I hope it doesn’t make me sound like a bad person to say that my first instinct is NO WAY!!!