Written by Brittany Chambers
Milk Sharing can Increase Breastfeeding Duration and Mom’s Health and Well-being:
Many scholars and advocates argue it is time to shift the expertise of infant feeding from health care providers to women themselves. Agustina Vidal suggests this is what is taking place through online support programs of milksharing among moms wanting to provide their babies human milk.
Many women enter motherhood unaware of their infant feeding options. Vidal suggests this is due to the fragmented reproductive health system in the U.S and lack of interpersonal support. Vidal describes the reproductive health system as an “assembly line,” where women receive different services throughout their sexual and reproductive life, lacking continuity and intersections among antenatal, perinatal, postpartum, and newborn care. She argues the current reproductive health system negatively impacts women’s breastfeeding initiation and duration, often causing women to experience shame for breastfeeding cessation. For example, a women can receive excellent information during prenatal care and have a negative experience during birth, leaving postpartum and newborn care professionals with the responsibility to make up for failure. If professionals are not qualified or even equipped to handle this challenge, the continuity, or line of care, can collapse. Vidal also says there is an intersection between interpersonal relationships and mothers breastfeeding success, where partners or family members do not support breastfeeding. The current healthcare system is in need of extra resources to address these differences.
Framing breastfeeding as a women’s right, Vidal presents the “V-Approach” to breastfeeding as a way of empowering women to make decisions about their infant-feeding choices and surrounding community. The “V-Approach” is a concept similar to that of a migrating flock. In a flock of migrating geese, different birds work at different rates to suffice the momentum needed to make it to their destination. When the lead bird gets tired, they rely on another bird in the flock to come forward to take the lead still reaching the final destination safely and on time. Delete?
Applying the “V-Approach” to breastfeeding, human milk sharing is a practice that can be used to allow women to make it to their final destination of providing human-milk to their babies. Vidal a personal plan with woman asking them “what is the most important thing in your life/goal, what/who is your strongest tool, what is your best alternative.” She further argues if something fails, women will have all the tools they need which can easily be rearranged as challenges arise. For example, woman mental health issues for whom breastfeeding was important, so she breastfeed her baby for a few months, not taking her medications. However, over time this woman became depressed. As a result, her doctor told her she needed to take anti-depressants, meaning she could no longer breastfeed her baby. Receiving donor milk allowed this woman to meet her goals while protecting her mental health.
Vidal describes many challenges with human milk sharing including lack of policies and laws and support from both healthcare providers and infant feeding industry. Further, she argues milksharing is an excellent tool for women to use until they can increase their own milk supply. However, there is not enough research surrounding milk sharing and more information is needed.
Vidal shares a milking sharing database which collects reports on adverse effects from milk sharing: midasmilk.com.
Agustina Vidal is a Lactation Consultant, one of the original administrators of Human Milk 4 Human Babies Global Milksharing Network, and the coordinator of World Milksharing Week. She has spent the past three years intimately getting to know many of the milksharing families they serve and understanding their needs and desires. In a past life, before marriage and before children, she was a human rights worker in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a very strong focus in public policy, having worked in grassroots movements, human rights organizations and government agencies.