A Gift Of Milk

By Katy Rank Lev

Exclusive breastfeeding was so important to me–my birth had not gone as planned at all and I was left with this feeling that I needed to nurse my son because it was the right nourishment for him, but also because I needed to know that SOME part of my body worked the way it was supposed to.

Alas, somewhere along the way, between recovering from emergency surgery, an allergic reaction and subsequent medications, a scream-a-saurus baby, 90 minutes of sleep per day, and countless visits/phone calls to the Breastfeeding Center and La Leche League…somewhere in there my commitment to breastfeeding was trumped by the fact that my baby just wasn’t getting enough food to eat. I had a supply problem.

My lactation consultant and pediatrician worked with me through loads of potential solutions. We strategically pumped. I used hands-on pumping. I took so much fenugreek I could have bottled my sweat as pancake topping. Through it all, my infant would cry in frustration before, during, and after nursing.

There wasn’t enough milk there.

After a lot of tears and reassurance that this was not the end of breastfeeding, we worked out a plan. I would nurse my son like usual, and then give him an ounce of alternate milk from a bottle, and then return him to the breast. My husband cracked open that free jar of formula powder that showed up in the mail from the advertisers. “Just in case!” I wept on the floor while my baby drank that metal-smelling goo.

When I lamented this situation to my friend, whose baby was just three weeks older than my son, she immediately offered me some of her spare milk. Spare milk! It took me three sessions of pumping both breasts to get an ounce. My friend could get 8 ounces in a 10-minute session with the double pump. It was nothing for her to squeeze me some extra milk, nothing at all. And yet it was everything for me to take it from her.

She gave us a freezer-load of milk in tiny baggies (she just had them sitting around!) and told me how glad she was to help. I didn’t have words to thank her. I will never, ever forget that first night my son slept 4 hours in a row after drinking his fill between breast and bottle. And not a bottle full of formula, but filled with human milk.

It gave me such comfort during a difficult time.

It took about 4 months to get my supply back in order and stop supplementing. I didn’t always have the luxury of those gifted bags, but each time I did, I found solace knowing my sweet baby was getting food custom-made for his tiny body and that food from a friend helped me feel better an extremely emotional situation. My husband and I are planning a second baby. My first goal in nourishing this baby will be exclusive breastfeeding, but if I have milk to spare next time around, I cannot wait to pay that karma forward.

Katy Rank Lev is a freelance writer and editor based in Pittsburgh, PA. She writes about motherhood and Mother Earth for the Mother Nature Network, Forbes.com, Fit Pregnancy, and other publications. You can find her online at www.katyranklev.com.

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