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When Moms Can’t Obtain Milk Through a Milk Bank, Peer-To-Peer Networks Provide What They Need

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Last month Virgie Townsend wrote an editorial for the Washington Post on her experience as a breast milk donor. In her piece Ms. Townsend shares how her milk came in faster and fuller than she expected. After running out of room in her freezer she decided to look into donating. In her piece, Ms. Townsend described donating 107 ounces of breast milk to a human milk bank in Massachusetts and shared details of the month-long screening process she went through to become a certified donor. She also discussed the rigorous screening and pasteurization process that her milk will go through before making its way to neonatal intensive care units across the Northeast United States.

Ms. Townsend’s hard work is commendable. The labor that goes into pumping breast milk can be hard to articulate to those who haven’t done so themselves, but it should be noted that it requires grit, patience, time, and energy. As a fellow breast milk donor, I appreciated Ms. Townsend shining light on the process of donating milk – I was also very disappointed to see her dismiss peer-to-peer milk sharing as dangerous without exploring the peer-to-peer process or digging into why exactly most mothers who receive donated breast milk do so through peer-to-peer networks. With over 90 percent of milk being shared in the U.S. being shared through informal channels, it seems worthy of exploration.


Like Ms. Townsend, I view donating breast milk as an act of community service and take great pride in the fact that I’m able to help women in my community feed their babies. Unlike Ms. Townsend, however, when I began to accumulate more milk than my son could ever drink and looked into my options for donating I decided that peer-to-peer milk sharing was the most ethical and effective way I could use my milk.

To date, I’ve donated 5,060 ounces of milk, all pumped within the last seven months, to babies in my community. Those ounces were hard won and I’m proud to have supplied nearly 40 gallons of milk, over 1000 meals, to eight babies (besides my own) who live within a few miles of my home. When I began to donate milk, I spent my pumping time digging into research on how, when, and why women share their milk.

While milk sharing may seem to be a novel practice in our modern, city dwelling lives, it’s been around since the beginning of time. Prior to the advent of formula, wet nursing or milk sharing was simply how babies survived if a mother passed away during childbirth or if she did not independently produce enough milk for her baby. Wet nursing in America certainly has a racist, dirty history, but along with the forced wet nursing of slaves, there have always been women who chose to nurse other women’s babies when their mothers could not.

While milk sharing was prevalent in the U.S. in the late 1800s, wet nursing and milk sharing decreased in frequency with the rise of commercial formula and other convenience feeding practices of the early 1900s. The first public health push for breastfeeding began in the 1920s when physicians began to note that babies who were fed cow’s milk and homemade formulas often suffered from dangerous bought of diarrhea that babies who received breast milk did not. As industry progressed and commercial formula companies began to enter the market, breastfeeding rates continued to fall. By 1971 only 24 percent of babies ever received any breast milk at all. In the late 70s women’s-centered health and a better understanding of how breast milk improves infant health led to a renewed push for breastfeeding that has moved breastfeeding’s rates upward (with periodic rises and falls) to where we are today. In 2011 79.2 percent of all babies were breastfeed and nearly half were still breastfeeding at six months.

As breastfeeding rates have continued to rise, and the serious, positive, long-term impacts of breastfeeding have begun to solidify in the collective conscious of moms in the U.S., their desire to ensure their babies have access to breast milk, even if it’s not their own, has increased.

In 1919 the first human milk bank in the United States opened in Boston. Over the next several decades, as societal trends of breastfeeding waned and waxed, various small scale milk banks popped up and then disappeared. In 1985 the Human Milk Banking Association of America was founded with the goal of establishing health and safety standards for all American Milk Banks. There are currently 24 human milk banks in operation in the United States.

These milk banks solicit donations from across the country and, after screening, pasteurizing, and combining milk into protein packed meals, provide it to premature babies for whom formula can pose a dangerous risk.

While the milk banks in operation across the U.S. provide an important services, America on the whole is way behind the curve when it comes to institutionalized milk sharing. While other nations (most notably, Brazil) have developed responsive, complex milk sharing systems that can be easily accessed by both donors and recipients, moms in America who wish to donate their milk have only two choices: to go through an arduous process of becoming a milk donor for a certified milk bans – and then freezing, packing and shipping her milk on a regular schedule – or finding another mom online who needs milk and meeting her in a parking lot somewhere to pass along their liquid gold.

While the lack of options to donating moms is frustrating, it’s far more stressful and difficult to be a mom in need of breast milk. Certified milk banks in the United States only provide milk to babies who are currently hospitalized – and charge a hefty fee (typically around $4 per ounce) for their services. To fill this major gap, several prominent milk sharing communities such as Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies and have come to play an important role in peer-to-peer milk sharing. Today, most mothers who receive donated breast milk (over 90 percent) receive it not through a milk bank, but though a peer-to-peer network.

When I talked with the mothers of the babies I’ve donated to, their reasons for soliciting breast milk donations varied: One mother was parenting a child she adopted at birth who was born prematurely and with drugs in his system. Formula was dangerous for his immature gut and, as he grew, he seemed to thrive on donated milk. Another mother had exclusively breastfed her two older children, but when her twins arrived she found that she simply could not produce the amount of milk they required. My milk provided the two bottles per day that each needed to meet their growth milestones.

Another mother had experienced a traumatic cesarean section and was disappointed that her milk barely came in at all – when she tried to supplement with formula her baby’s tummy tightened and she wailed with gas pains all day and night. She tried every brand of formula in the store and even special ordered a gentle formula from across the ocean, but after trial and error she found that the only thing that soothed her and allowed her to eat pain free was donated breast milk. There was also a mom who was having surgery and needed just 60 ounces to get her baby through the period of time she needed to dispose of her milk due to her medication, and another who was headed to her sisters bachelorette party and would be unable to ship back the 30 ounces her little would need while she was gone.

Each of these women and the countless others who must turn to peer-to-peer milk donors due to a lack of milk sharing infrastructure in the U.S. place an enormous amount of trust in on another. Unlike milk that goes through a certified milk bank, their donors are not screened for disease, drugs, or alcohol use, and the milk that they feed their babies is not pasteurized or tested in any way. While Ms. Townsend worried greatly about the potential risk of a baby getting sick from donor milk, and mentioned the AAP recommendation to only use milk shared through a milk bank, the simple fact is that until women have ready access to breast milk though a milk bank, they will continue place their trust in their fellow mothers to procure milk for their babies.

Instead of condemning peer-to-peer sharing as unsafe, we should work towards reforming the culture of breast milk and milk sharing in the United Stated to ensure that, first and foremost, all women who want to breastfeed are supported to do so and, second, that all women who desire donor breast milk are able to access it in a safe, reliable manner.

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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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It's officially a sale bonanza, mamas! In addition to Amazon's 48-hours of Prime Day markdowns, Target has joined the fray and is also offering major discounts this Monday and Tuesday via its Deal Days, Walmart is offering up Deal Days, and let's not forget the Nordstrom Anniversary pre-sale is happening, too!)

Target's biggest sale of the summer is on our radar for a couple reasons. For one, unlike Prime Day, you don't have to have a membership with the retails to score the discounts. Secondly, once you've ordered a product you can select to pick it up same day at your nearest store. (Have the Target app? From there you can even choose "drive up" and pickup up your loot curbside—without even getting the kids out of their car seats!)

But the deals don't stop at Target, so we hit up a slew of other retailers to find the best deals you can get today..you know the ones that aren't available over at Amazon. Because it's all about scoring the biggest discount possible, right? Right!

Whether you're stocking up on back-to-school supplies, investing in baby gear or just need to replenish your everyday home items, these are the products you want to scoop up this week.


Boxed: Up to 50% off Prince & Spring toilet paper (use code TPPARTY), 20% off kitchen gadgets and tools, up to 20% off snacks, home goods, and school supplies

Best Buy: Flash sale across the site—from appliances to tech

Macys: Black Friday in July sales, including an extra 25% off select departments

TJ Maxx: Summer clearance event with savings that only happen twice a year

Dick's Sporting Goods: $20 off your order of $100+

Carter's: Summer cyber sale, entire site 55% off or more

Williams Sonoma: Friends and family sale, 20% off your order and free fast shipping with code FRIENDS

Gap: Up to 50% off sitewide

Old Navy: 50% off sitewide and free shipping

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


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Last month Granger Smith and his wife, Amber, shared a story no parent would every want to. Their son, River, drowned at their home—and despite attempts to revive him—the little boy died tragically at just 3 years old. But River's parents managed to find some good in this absolutely devastating loss: They chose to donate their son's organs, saving two lives in the process.

River's mom, Amber, opened up about this choice in a heartbreaking Instagram post.

"I've always known I wanted to be a donor if anything were to ever happen to me," Amber writes alongside a photo of River. "Never in a million years did I think I would be making that decision for my baby."

Our hearts hurt so badly for this mama—but we're also amazed by her ability to find a way to turn her worst-case scenario into a lifesaving measure for other families.

Amber shares more about her family's gut-wrenching experience in the post, writing that doctors told Amber and Granger their son had no chance of brain recovery. As shocking as that was to hear, the parents knew they wanted to donate River's organs as there are so many people who need donations to survive.

That choice began a three-day process of determining which organs could be donated and which recipients would be appropriate. Amber shares excruciating details about the night before River's operation.

 River's organs saved two adults

"I spent the night laying in bed with him, crying and talking to him while they kept running tests and taking blood. The next morning family and staff lined the hall for the 'walk of honor.' We told them River liked to go fast, so to honor him, they pushed him down that hall faster than they had ever pushed anyone. Granger and I held each other and cried," Amber writes.

It's all so terribly tragic...but the outcome is bittersweet. Amber and Granger received a letter explaining that River's organs saved two adults, a 49-year-old woman and a 53-year-old man. Amber calls the decision to donate her precious son's organs the hardest and easiest of her life.

Our thoughts continue to be with River's family. We can't even imagine what they're going through, but their strength and grace in the face of all this is incredible—and we hope they'll always find comfort in the fact that little River left a beautiful, heroic, lifesaving legacy behind.

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When I was pregnant with my fourth child, my husband and I decided to shell out for a swing set in our backyard. Why? We knew with a new baby, packing up four kids and heading to the park on a daily basis would simply not be feasible. Don't get me wrong, I love a playground. But when you've got multiple kids running in every direction and a toddler refusing to only climb up a slide that big kids are careening down—well, let's just say that the park can go from super fun to incredibly stressful real fast.

Having a play set right in our backyard means that when the baby is napping, my "big" kids can get off their screens and head outside to swing their hearts out or play pirates under the canopy. And I can be inside cooking dinner or folding laundry or answering work emails while they get allllll their energy out. The swing set was one of the best investments we've ever made… and we paid a lot for ours.

Which is why my jaw dropped when I saw that KidKraft is offering its Ainsley Wooden Swing Set right now for just $269 at Walmart today. (FYI: It's a hundred dollar more on Amazon.)


What does it comes with? Two swings, a high-rail wavy slide, a rock-climbing wall, an upper level "clubhouse" (the perfect spot for summer morning snacks or kids-only meetings), a chalkboard and a sandbox. Yup, that equates to roughly 100,000 hours of kids entertaining themselves over the next year alone. For less than $270.

If you're worried about quality, don't be. I've seen the KidKraft product in person and they're legit—big, beautiful and made of super-sturdy cedar lumber. Really I'm just here to tell ya that this is a purchase you'll never regret, regardless of how many kiddos you've got at home. Your summer (and your backyard) is about to be lit!

KidKraft Ainsley Wooden Swing Set

Sale price: $269

Original price: $399


Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Many new parents receive the confusing news that their newborn baby has a tongue-tie. It means the skin attaching their tongues to the bottom of their mouths is longer than normal. And while this condition can cause complications from infancy on, a new study shows that not all newborns need to get surgery to correct it.

The condition is known as ankyloglossia, which occurs in 4-10% of people, usually looks like nothing but an extra strip of skin under the tongue. But because that skin (called the lingual frenulum) acts like a taut rubber band restricting movement, babies with a tongue-tie often have difficulty forming a good latch to nurse. This can mean they don't get enough milk, so they have to nurse for longer. Meanwhile, they're causing their mother a whole lot of pain because their latch is shallower and mostly clamping down on the tip of the nipple.

I speak from experience here: When my son had a tongue-tie, it felt like I was feeding an angry piranha. He was definitely not getting enough to eat, and my milk supply was steadily decreasing.

But this new study published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery suggests that not all babies diagnosed with ankyloglossia need to undergo a frenotomy—a simple procedure in which a doctor snips the skin with a pair of surgical scissors.


Infants don't usually need anesthesia, because this tissue doesn't have many nerve endings or blood vessels. Their mother is asked to breastfeed them immediately after the snip, to get the tongue moving properly and reduce the chance of the skin growing back. According to the Mayo Clinic, complications from frenotomies include bleeding, infection and damage to the tongue or salivary glands, but they are rare.

What's not rare is the number of patients getting frenotomies: Referrals for the procedure in the U.S. went up tenfold, from 1,200 in 1997 to 12,400 in 2012.

"We have seen the number of tongue-tie and upper lip tether release surgeries increase dramatically nationwide without any real strong evidence that shows they are effective for breastfeeding," study co-author Christopher J. Hartnick, MD MS, of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, said in a press release.

The researchers looked at 115 infants (between 19-56 days old) who were referred for a frenotomy. Instead of sending them straight into surgery, the babies and their parents met with a pediatric speech-language pathologist for a feeding evaluation. These specialists observed the babies breastfeeding and gave parents feedback and tips to overcome any challenges they were experiencing. After this, 72 (62.6%) patients did not have the frenotomy after all, while 10 (8.7%) had a labial frenotomy (releasing extra tissue from the lips) and 32 (27.8%) had both a labial and lingual frenotomy.

"We don't have a crystal ball that can tell us which infants might benefit most from the surgeries, but this preliminary study provides concrete evidence that this pathway of a multidisciplinary feeding evaluation is helping prevent babies from getting this procedure," Hartnick said.

For now, parents' best bet is to consult more than one specialist to identify the best plan of action. In addition to lactation consultants, children with tongue-ties might need to see speech pathologists later. In some cases, the frenulum loosens over time. In others, they might wind up needing the procedure after all.

Anecdotally, I'll add that I visited with lactation consultants and my son's pediatrician more than once before deciding he should have a frenotomy. It was no fun for me (who wants a strange man sticking scissors in their baby's mouth?), but my kid was fine. It didn't solve all our problems, but feeding was much less painful immediately afterward.

The bottom line here seems to be that not everyone needs to rush into a procedure just because it's easy. Our kiddos deserve more than a one-size-fits-all approach to their health.

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