Thank you for giving my son life.
I don’t want to get crazy on you here, but let me be totally transparent: I can’t imagine what my family would look like without that liquid gold. Your gold. Your life-force alchemy.
I know what it’s like to hook yourself up to a pump every day, mulitple times a day, for months on end. Extracting that milk, creating extra steps, extra dishes, extra work while engaging in the most extra energy exerting time of your life with a newborn clutched to one breast as the pump cranks on the other. You never even hinted at the burden I knew it was for you. You handled it with an elegant grace I unreservedly admire.
Last year, I found myself stuck in a nightmare with my eight month old son. My sweet baby had severe food allergies (here’s what I want you to know about FPIES), and needed more milk than I could produce. My breasts, the ones that were meant to feed him, began to fail us both. Even after all of the nutrition and support and finally pharmaceutical medication, I could not raise my milk supply to keep up with his demand. Exclusive pumping, unimaginable stress, sick baby, hormone shifts, whatever. You name it, it contributed to the decrease in my milk.
Formula was a risky option for my son, even the expensive elemental ones that work for 99.9% of infants with food allergies. We had no guarantee my son’s compromised system could tolerate the pre-digested proteins, as many other babies with his syndrome are unable to. I prayed. I researched. I lit candles and called formula companies and looked into every conceivable way to feed my son that did not require actual food.
And then my phone rang and you were on the line, understanding with your medical knowledge and feeling it all with your tender heart, and asked if you could give my son your milk.
I cried. With my back literally against the wall, sitting on the floor of my bedroom, muffling my relieved sobs, I accepted your gift with the undeniable knowledge there was no way I could ever pay this gift forward, much less pay you back. With a newborn baby who needed your milk and a toddler who needed your attention, a full-time job and active community involvement, you offered to close the gap for us. You added one more thing to your very full plate and you did it with grace and strength and love.
Every few weeks, a box would arrive, overnighted from Texas to Oregon, dry ice all but disintegrated in a custom styrofoam cooler. (One of many coolers you recruited your friends to save for you to ship your milk to us.) You pumped your milk, froze it, picked up the cooler from your friend, loaded it all into your car, bought dry ice, carefully constructed the layers of dry ice and newspaper and milk inside the cooler, put that cooler in a box and took it to the shipping place with a hope and a prayer that all your hard work and irreplaceable milk would travel 2,000 miles and still be frozen when it arrived. You, who had a million and one things to do, found time and capacity to do one more (hard) thing. And you never complained.
I followed a strict elimination diet, and at one point I could only safely eat 11 foods without causing my son’s gut to bleed and his weight to drop. You altered your diet, too. You ate the same tiny list of foods because you loved my son that much. You restricted your menu and dilligently read every label and questioned every ingredient before eating a single bite in order to keep my son safe. You were full of encouraging words and creatively figured out what to eat when you couldn’t really eat anything and shared your food hacks with me.
Last summer, after seven months of pumping and freezing and shipping, you called me in tears. Your milk was almost gone, drying up to barely a trickle. I cried, too. I offered to send back what milk I had left in my freezer for your daughter. The milk belonged to her. YOU are HER mama. That milk was made for her. I was adamant.
You said no.
Unbeknownst to me, you had already tried other supplemental options and she responded well. “My baby is healthy. We can still nurse. And two more weeks of freezer milk will buy you time to find another way.” And you were right. We found another way. Another donor, (your sister). And another donor after that, (my best friend). And eventually, another supplementation my son’s body accepted.
- Two friends in Texas (including his main donor, Allison)
- One visiting friend from England (and sister to Allison)
- My BFF who supplied milk for several months after our main donor could not continue.
- My midwife who learned she was pregnant about an hour before my son was born and donated her baby’s colostrum.
- A friend of a friend I met only once, but for whom I feel much gratitude.
Carrie Saum brings a passion for wellness and over a decade of experience in health care to her clients. A certified Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor (AWC) from the Kerala Ayurveda Academy, she empowers individuals and families to achieve health and balance through time-honored practices and health knowledge. Carrie has extensive first-hand experience in vast array of medical and service fields.
With background in paramedic medicine, Carrie spent ten years serving in the non-profit sector managing organizations, programs, and orchestrating resources to meet health needs of people across the United States and abroad in countries such as Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, and Zambia. As an AWC, Carrie currently coaches her clients and their families about topics including nutrition, weight loss, and stress management. In addition to her work as a wellness counselor, Carrie is a passionate “foodie” and the voice behind OurStableTable.com. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and young son.
by Jessica Martin-Weber
Recently I was reflecting on why I started Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference and I thought back on my different feeding journeys with my daughters, looking back and wishing there were things I knew when I first started out that I know now. I considered writing a post to my young self but then I realized that the ones I really want to know now what I wish I knew then about infant feeding are my daughters. Before they embark on their own motherhood journey, before they begin feeding their own babies (yes, I’m assuming that out of 6 girls at least one of them will have children and I will get to be a grandparent), there are so many things I want them to know, I could write a book and not just on infant feeding. Respecting that their journey will be their own, not some version or extension of mine, what I want to share isn’t a how to nor is it a manual, it is more just… my heart. Why am I starting an infant feeding conference? My daughters are why.
From time to time I reflect on the days when you were new to the world, newer than you are now, which is still pretty new. Those days when you were tiny and fit snuggled on my chest with your arms and legs tucked under you, my hand supporting your little bum. I think about the smell of your head, the feel of your skin, the depth of your eyes. I smile as I remember arguing with your father and sometimes others that it wasn’t gas, you were actually really smiling in your sleep. Like precious family heirlooms, from time to time I reverently unpack the memories of your daddy gently swinging you on his arm during fussy periods of the day, how one of your big sisters would interact with you, the way you calmed when I held you, the seriousness with which you would watch light dancing on the wall, and other fragments of the time when you were the smallest big thing in my world.
Some of those cherished mental keepsakes have little barbs on them. They sting when I unpack them, no matter how careful I am. How you were taken away from me just after I had the first chance to hold you because I was hemorrhaging, the time I screwed up and dropped you due to careless use of an infant carrier (Oh sweetie, I tried to call Child Protective Services on myself), hours and hours of screaming that nothing would soothe and the obvious pain you were in (heads up, colic is hell), the stint in the hospital with RSV, and so many more. I could keep these painful memories locked up and forgotten but I don’t, though I don’t linger over them too long, they are an important part of the story we share.
A good number of those treasured memories so carefully packed in my mind are around feeding you. You, as babies do, ate often. Satiated is but a temporary state of being and babies stay there only for brief moment of visitation. Some of these memory gems are truly sublime, shining moments that reflect the light of my love, your beauty, and our connection in sparkling bursts of color from ever angel and with every turn. Some of them are more like clunky chunks of rough rock, the weight and texture of which can make me raw. There is beauty there, beauty only appreciated when the whole topography is viewed. I cherish them all.
My baby feeding story journey isn’t isolated to just feeding you. All 6 of my children have impacted me and feeding each of them has had a hand in shaping me as a mother and directly impacting how I parented. And so, there are a few things I really want you to know about feeding babies. This won’t give you everything you need to know but these, my strong, intelligent, and courageous daughter, are the things what I want you to know from my heart about feeding babies and I hope sharing this now feeds you in a new way.
Feeding is important. Very important. Feeding our babies is the most basic, most essential, most immediate, and most elemental aspect of parenting. It can be said, without fail, that not feeding your baby is parenting failure. Neglect. Abuse. This may seem obvious and it is, but it is also important in ways you wouldn’t first see. In my experience, how our children come to us is a journey that shapes us much like rushing water can shape rock. Babies aren’t the only ones birthed, mothers are birthed through the arrival of their children into their lives. Likewise, how we feed our babies can lay a foundation for how we parent. Feeding can shore up our confidence as parents and it can tear it down.
But not that important. For as deeply as it can impact us, you’ll feed your babies so many times each day that it can become mundane. That’s ok. You don’t have to experience each moment feeding your baby as a super special time of bonding. That would be like expecting every meal with your significant other to be a candlelight dinner that you poured yourself into preparing and spent looking deeply into each other’s eyes. In the end, as long as the feeding happens, the important part is done. And because it has to be done so frequently, letting go of expectations as to how it happens can be freeing to enjoy each experience as much as possible without the stress.
You matter too. Before baby comes, everyone is all about the mother-to-be. After baby comes, everyone is all about the baby and the mom is little more than the easel holding up the masterpiece. With that comes all the opinions on how to care for, and certainly how to feed, the masterpiece. But you matter too. According to many, you’ll be doing it wrong. Even those who support the method you are using will find ways to tell you are doing it wrong. Everything is subject to such “support” when it comes to feeding your baby. Bottle feeding? You’re holding that bottle wrong, using the wrong bottle, giving a bottle at all… all wrong. Breastfeeding? You’re using the wrong position, the wrong pillows, the wrong place, the wrong timing, doing it at all… all wrong. Pumping? You’re using the wrong pump, the wrong setting, the wrong method, doing it at all… all wrong. With everyone focused on the adorable masterpiece, they will want to “help” you care for it “right.” In the process, some will forget about caring for you. Mothering may change how you see your body and how you feel about it, aspects you may not love may be the most wonderful to your child. Mothering will change your heart and how you feel about it, aspects you may not love about yourself may be the most wonderful to your child. Take care of you, your children will need you to, they need and love you. It may feel selfish but taking care of you is important in taking care of your baby. You matter. Find those that can genuinely support you and your goals in caring for your baby. Those who believe you matter too.
The system is broken. It is improving and I hope by the time you are embarking on this journey, the system will be in a much better place. Right now though, it’s broken. From uninformed health care providers to uninformed store managers, from predatory marketing to pushy breastfeeding supporters, from poor insurance coverage to poor maternity leave, from ignorant judgmental strangers on the internet to ignorant judgmental friends in person, the system of infant feeding support in our society is failing moms. It is imbedded in our culture and it is hurting people. That can change but only by addressing the system rather than individual parents. They, you, just need someone willing to support them as a person, not a conquest. There is a lot of hurt, anger, guilt, shame, fear, arrogance, and hope surrounding this and you will hear it but it isn’t really about you.
Science is cool. There’s a lot of it and you’ll want to take the time to be familiar with it before you head into feeding your babies. Not everyone agrees on the science, it’s worth hearing the various view points. Being informed and personally conscientious can help you tap into your own powerful confidence. Decide what makes sense to you, what works for you according to the information, resources, and support available to you within your personal context and individual circumstances.
But feeding babies isn’t science, it’s a relationship. At some point, all the information in the world, all the evidence, all the support, all the goals aren’t important any more. Because it is a relationship. You and your baby. You are the one who knows what that relationship needs, you are the expert, you are the one most qualified. Even when you feel like you aren’t. You taught me that what a baby really needs is a fully invested parent who lovingly cares for them. Listen to yourself and your baby and don’t let anyone else define your relationship, feeding or otherwise.
There is more, so much more about feeding I want to tell you but for now I’ll stop here. Except for this:
I believe in you. I support you. Whatever you need, I am here for you and plan to be there for you. Unless you ask me not to. But most of all, I love you. You’ve got this.
What would you say to your children about infant feeding? How will you tell them the story of feeding them? What do you want them to know?
I started Milk with MommyCon founder, Xza Higgins, with the goal to bring together health care providers, parenting advocates, infant feeding influencers, and parents for workshops, seminars, and connecting centered around conversation supporting feeding our babies.
Founded on the belief that infant feeding support makes a difference and can directly influence confidence levels in parents, MiLK focuses on information sharing and mindful support that builds parents up without tearing down, respecting the unique journey of each of us. MiLK aims to actively educate and support infant feeding by connecting health care providers and the families they care for discussing breastfeeding, formula feeding, breastmilk pumping, at the breast supplementing, bottle feeding, cup feeding, spoon feeding… FEEDING. This is not, to be clear, a breastfeeding conference. It is an infant feeding conference with a goal of bringing together health care providers and parents where we can learn from each other.
Most importantly, I hope we learn how to really listen and what support can really looks like.
I hope you can me join me in Los Angeles, California, July 31st and August 1st. The speakers and panelists are all people I greatly respect, people that inspire me not only in my infant feeding journeys but in supporting others in their journeys as well. Offering 9.25 CERPs (IBCLC) and 11.1 Contact Hours (BRN), MiLK is for the lay parent and the health care professional.
I would love to see you there.
We have a MiLK giveaway!
Prize pack 2: 2 general admission tickets to milk, 1 tekhni Nymphai ring sling, 1 Ergobaby nursing pillow, 1 [email protected] shirt.
Open to USA residents only.
Please use the widget below to enter.
Earth Mama Celebrates The Leaky Boob and My Story Matters.
Was breastfeeding a piece of cake for you? Or were you a mama who struggled every day? Was your time so short you don’t think you have a story, or so long you’re reluctant to mention it? Did you have the support of everyone, or were you discouraged from your choices? Every story is important, and every story matters: every time a breastfeeding mama tells her story it helps others see themselves and find courage and support. There is not ONE model for breastfeeding, and it doesn’t matter what your story is, we all need to commit to supporting each other.
In honor of The Leaky Boob’s Fifth Anniversary and My Story Matters, Earth Mama is renewing the Support With Integrity Pledge. The Leaky Boob’s open, supportive, non-judgmental environment is a perfect example of criticism-free breastfeeding help, with acknowledgment that there are as many ways to get your baby fed as there are types of nursing pillows. The Leaky Boob encourages “acceptance no matter if you use a pillow from the bed or one that’s branded – if one kind of pump works better for you then hallelujah! Nobody lives this life exactly the same way. That includes different breastfeeding “methods”. If the mama is happy and the baby is healthy that’s perfect. And we can encourage a community of people who are there to support, not criticize or judge.” Sing it, Leaky!
The Support with Integrity Pledge gives props to women who choose to lift each other up, and not tear each other down. There are so many opinions and choices when it comes to breastfeeding: whether or not you should even be using a nursing pillow, which brand, how often, on a schedule not on a schedule, a nipple shield or not, and don’t get us started on position! Football, side laying, upside down yoga baby… there is so much overwhelming information, and everyone has a different experience.
Instead of judging choices that are different from ours, let’s choose to be each other’s cheerleaders. Let’s choose to acknowledge that breastfeeding can be hard, or easy, or both, and it can be different for different children of the same mama. Let’s stand down from judgment, and jump toward supporting every mama’s personal decision. Let’s strengthen and unite the efforts of breastfeeding supporters, who focus on getting the baby fed, and not take sides about how it’s done, or being right.
So often when you find an exhausted mama, a crying baby, and frustration at trying to make this breastfeeding thing work, you also find people wanting to help. And help is wonderful, of course, but sometimes it comes with an edge. Some who are very invested in a certain way of doing things can sometimes forget to, first and most important, be kind and supportive. Maybe you’ve been the mama, maybe you’ve been the supportive friend, maybe you’ve even been the one pushing an agenda a little too hard. We’ve all been there, and we all mean well.
Need some help trying to figure out what’s helpful and what’s not? Here are some ways to support mamas who may not be making the same choices as you:
- “You are doing great, mama.” This little phrase can mean so much, especially when a mama is feeling confused and exhausted.
- Suggest she find a support site or Facebook page similar to HER values, not yours. The Leaky Boob is a welcoming breastfeeding community that offers judgment-free support and helpful resources.
- “How can I help? I will keep my opinions to myself and do whatever you need!” And then button your lip and do it!
- Help defuse aggressive questioning or pointed comments with a, “I’m so glad your nursing choices have been beneficial to you and your baby, but my friend has chosen a different way and she could really use our support!”
- Piles of research on the “right” way to breastfeed – we can find all sorts of conflicting information on the Internet. Respect that your friend has chosen a way that works for her, even if you disagree with it.
- Scary stories information about other people’s bad experiences.
- “It was easy for you before, why can’t you do it this time?” Remember, different babies have different breastfeeding experiences.
- Any unsolicited opinion about method, equipment, position, or schedule – you don’t know the whole story, and if the baby’s being fed, just smile and admire that there are lots of ways to get the job done!
And now, go take the pledge! “I agree to hold hands and help mamas get what they need to make breastfeeding work for them, no matter how they choose to do it. If a mama and baby are making it work, I’ll stand and cheer them on from the sidelines.”
Sign on now here!
Share with us what you find to be helpful and respectful support and what you have found not to be helpful nor respectful support in the comments below.
by Elizabeth Grattan
I found the Leaky Boob after a long while of going it alone in my nursing journey. I lurked silently for months. I watched women come for support. I listened and I learned. And I am so thankful and grateful for the resource. We are three plus years and going strong, my lad and I. And so, in the spirit of forward support, the following is my contribution to celebrate five wonderful years of encouragement for women and men. Thank you Jessica and your admins and the entire family of TLB. All those in this community who make the difference. — Elizabeth
So many questions. So many answers. Information at our fingertips as we crowd source for support and scour the internet to validate our choices. And still, with all the resources in the world, so much still unknown.
Until we figure out we’re answering the wrong questions. We’re framing our dialogues wrong. We’re talking, but we’re not really saying anything. We’re hearing, but we aren’t really listening. We’re trying to reach, without teaching the things that equip and empower women.
So stop for minute. And consider a better lesson….
The reproductive right that belongs to women. The informed choice she can make when taught all the information. The answer to every single question:
Teach children about anatomy. Equip and educate on reproductive choice early and often. Teach the history of breastfeeding. That autonomy always mattered. That milk is custom to species. That women weaned. That nursing a child is part of the reproductive journey.
Teach what alternatives were used besides the mother’s breast to nourish the offspring. Animals, meat stocks, slaves — hundreds of options that tested our humanity along the way. Teach the history. The good, the bad, the ugly. Teach the injustice. Teach the risk they carried. Teach that babies died early. That infant mortality was horrifying. That we used and exploited women’s bodies.
Teach that we wanted to breastfeed. That we wanted to wean. That we wanted to dry up our milk completely. That we were once unknowingly stripped of a choice. That a pill and a shot were just par for the course. That women and children were at risk. That our options were hit or miss.
Teach the advancements in our journey. How far we have come. How we’re still not done. How amazing that is. That women and children live. But that for some, those same horrors still exist. Teach that we are still working on it.
Teach the socio-economics. Teach the privilege. Teach the realities and the limits on women. Teach the strides we’re making. Teach the change in legislation. Teach that we can and have and will succeed in decisions.
Teach that nursing is a learning process. That seeing breastfeeding matters. That we need observation and exposure. Teach that qualifications have no place. That normalizing keeps women and children from hiding under cover in shame.
Teach about the imperfection in reproduction. So no one is taken aback because a myth told them it was for everyone. Teach how to handle the griefs and losses for women who had their reproductive choices stripped from them.
Teach how to dry the milk. Teach how to wean. Teach how to latch a baby. Teach the laws on breastfeeding. Teach people everything.
And don’t assume a woman will decide to nurse and don’t assume she won’t. Ask her. Trust her answer. Trust her answer might change. And empower her along the way.
So if she says: “I do not want to use my reproductive system this way,” you say: “Okay, here is information on all your options. From drying your milk to stopping engorgement to offering your child their developmental requirement. Here is what’s safe. Here is what isn’t.”
So if she says: “I want to use my reproductive system this way,” you say: “Okay, here is information on all you’re offering. From latching your child to expressing your milk to never forgetting to be kind to yourself. Here is what’s safe. Here is what isn’t.”
But don’t battle about if a reproductive process has benefits. Don’t project your personal preference. Don’t ignore the anecdotes. Don’t ignore the evidence. Don’t tell. Listen. And ask the only relevant question:
“What do you want to do? Because it’s your body, it’s your call. And I want you to know I’m here to help you. Through it all.”
How would you answer the above question? How have you asked it in support of other women? How are you giving support forward?