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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.

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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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We've all been there. You first hear those cries that don't sound like any other cries and immediately know what's happening. It's like our mama hearts know when our little ones need us the most. Having little ones feeling under the weather is hard. They can't tell you exactly how they feel. You can't explain to them that they'll feel better soon, and all there is for everyone to do is to take it easy and stay cuddled inside until you can get them to the doctor.

The issue, by this point, is that my son is old enough to know what's coming when we open the medicine cabinet, so giving him something for his throat ends up being like a wrestling match without the fun and giggles. My son especially likes spitting out anything as a way to protest how he's generally feeling, so we both end up covered in sticky syrup feeling defeated. Because, seriously, who thought that using a syringe or pipette to squirt out gooey liquid down an unwilling toddler's mouth was a good idea? (Probably not a parent.)

That's why when I found out there was an easier and more fun way to make these dreaded sick days better, I was all about it.

Enter: Lolleez.

Lolleez are organic throat soothing pops for kids—and adults!—that are made with organic ingredients that you can pronounce and understand like honey and natural fruit pectin. Plus, they're non-GMO as well as gluten, dairy and nut-free i.e. worry-free for all kinds of kiddos. The pops help soothe sore throats while acting like a treat for when kids are feeling under the weather. I also appreciate that the pops are actually flat and on a stick, as opposed to a lozenge or round ball lollipop. They were also created by a mom, which makes me feel a million times more confident about them since I know she knows exactly how hard sick days with a little one can be.

loleez

When I introduced my son to Lolleez pops, everything changed. Suddenly the battle to get him to take something to feel better wasn't... well, a battle. In the few times he's been sick since, he's been more than happy to pop a Lolleez, and I've been more than grateful that soothing him is now as easy as peeling open a wrapper. And, since they come in watermelon, strawberry and orange mango—strawberry is the favorite in this household—he never gets bored of getting a soothing lolly.

Also, they're easy to find—you can get them at stores like Target, CVS and online so I never worry that I'll be caught without in a pinch. After the sick days have run their course and my son starts feeling better, there's nothing like seeing that glow in his eyes come back and have him greet me with a big smile when I come into his room in the morning, ready for the day.

While our littles not feeling well is inevitable, as a mama, I'll do anything to make my child feel better, and I'm so thankful for products that make it just a little easier for the both of us. So here's to enjoying the snuggles that come with sick days, while also looking forward to the giggles that come after them.

This article was sponsored by Lolleez. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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It was never my goal to be a mama and a wife. As a teenager, I was completely fine with my decision not to have children. When someone would ask me how many children I wanted, my response would always be none. In my 20's, I traveled the world and focused on building my career. A family of my own was far from my mind. And I was okay with that. Then I hit 30 and something inside me changed.

I'm not sure what exactly changed. Or why it changed. But I started to long for a family of my own.

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Then as if my heart's desire had been answered I met him. We fell in love. And within a few years, I was married to this incredible man. Then we received the best news we could have hoped for. I was pregnant—with a baby boy. The family I had longed for was right here in front of me. I had become this child's mama.

Just like that my whole life's focus changed.

My mind wasn't on my career progression or where in the world I was going to explore next. It was focused on this little human. This little human, who was safely cradled in my arms. This little human who now relied on me to provide him with care, with comfort, with love.

I became defined by my motherhood. And that was okay.

Now I won't lie, as my son grew and we welcomed our second child to our family, there were moments of exhaustion. Moments of frustration. Moments of tears. Moments where I desperately needed some me time.

But here is the truth. Yes, right now I am defined by motherhood. And that's okay. I spent many years longing to be here at this moment. To have my family. To be my children's mama.

I know this is a finite period in my life. So I am choosing to embrace it. I am choosing to find joy in my motherhood journey.

I know my children need me now in a way they won't ever again. And I don't want to miss out on all the beautiful moments right here in front of me.

You see, one day they won't need me to rock them in my arms or lay with them every night till they fall asleep.

One day they won't need me to pick them up and carry them everywhere. In fact, one day they will be too big for me to do that even if I wanted to.

One day they won't need to help them get dressed and put on their shoes.

One day they won't ask me to sing them that song for the 10th time.

One day they won't need me to do all the things for them as they do now.

You see, right now my children are only little. Right now they need me. Right now they choose me.

I am their safe place. I am their comfort. I am honored to be the one that they turn to. I am honored to be the one they call home.

That is why, first and foremost, I am defined by my motherhood. And that is more than okay with me.

This article was previously published here.

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Your to-do list is kind of under control. The kitchen is mostly clean. You just finished that big work project and to celebrate, you scheduled a lunch out with the girls tomorrow while your little one is at school. As you rest your head on the pillow you think to yourself, “Okay! I might actually sorta-kinda have this whole thing under control!"

And then you hear it from down the hallway: cough cough.

Your eyes shoot open. No. It's fine, just a little tickle in her throat. She's fine.

Cough cough cough.

Nope, it's fine. If I lay here and don't move nothing will be...

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“MOOOOOOMMMMMMYYYYYYYYY I don't feeeeeeel goooooooood."

Sigh.

You break out the humidifier, the Tylenol and the snuggles. And then comes the inevitable question—can they go to school tomorrow? It's not an easy question to answer, for sure.

On the one hand, kids are basically walking booger factories at all times—if we kept them home for every sneeze and cough they'd never go to school. On the other hand, we don't want to put our kids in a situation where they could get sicker—or make other kids sick.

When in doubt, you should always give your pediatrician a call for guidance. Most schools have policies on it as well.

But as a general rule of thumb, here's what to know when your child isn't feeling well:

On fevers

The most clear cut of all symptoms are fevers—if they have a fever, they stay home. A fever is any temperature of 100.4 Fahrenheit or greater. A child needs to be fever-free for a full 24-hours before they can return to school.

Note: If your newborn has a fever she needs medical attention right away. It could be an emergency.

On stuffy noses and coughs

A mildly stuffy nose, or an occasional cough isn't enough to warrant a day off from school. But if the mucus is really thick and/or the cough is frequent, loud, or just sounds “gross," it's probably best to keep her home.

Coughs can linger for a long time in children, but if it persists for several days, or she has a fever with it, give your doctor a call. If the cough sounds like a seal barking, and certainly if she is having any trouble breathing, get medical attention right away.

On tummy troubles

Or as my daughter's preschool teacher called it, “intestinal mischief." If your child is vomiting or has diarrhea, they should stay home (and should stay home for 24 hours after the last incident). Make sure everyone at home washes their hands really well, as stomach bugs tend to be very contagious.

Remember to encourage your child to drink lots of fluids. If they aren't drinking, call your doctor right away.

On skin issues

This can be tricky—between marker explosions, dry skin and rashes, it seems like my kids' skin looks different every day. Rashes are almost impossible to diagnose over the phone, so if you are concerned, they'll need to be evaluated by their doctor to help determine the cause (and contagiousness) of the rash.

If you suspect your child has lice, they should stay home as well—and you'll probably have to give the school a call so they can ANONYMOUSLY alert the other parents.

Along the same lines is the dreaded conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Usually your child (or lucky you) will wake up with their eyelids crusted shut, or they'll have a very pink eye with lots of goop (sorry—but we're all moms here, we can handle the eye goop convo right?)

This is highly contagious, so they should for sure stay home from school. Depending on if it's viral or bacterial, you doctor may prescribe medicine that clears it up quickly.

On pain

This one is tough—kids often complain about various boo-boos, especially when it means that they get a Frozen Bandaid out of the deal. If they complain of pain persistently, if the pain prevents them from playing, and of course if you witness a bad injury, keep them home and get medical help right away.

Remember that you know your child best. Ultimately, you get to make the decision. Your pediatrician will be there to guide you, and one day, ONE DAY, you really will get that whole to-do list tackled... we think?

You've got this.

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Learn + Play

Hilaria Baldwin has worn her emotions on her sleeve in recent months sharing the heartbreaking news of her miscarriage and then the happy news of her current pregnancy—and she's all about being her authentic self.

The yoga guru thrives on having her hands full. In fact, on top of raising her four children with husband Alec Baldwin and her work, Hilaria recently decided to foster a new puppy, because what is life without a little chaos!

Motherly caught up with Hilaria this week and she didn't hesitate to dish on a variety of things relating to motherhood. From how she and her husband juggle parenting duties, to how she handled introducing her children to their younger siblings when they were born, and, of course, how she deals with online criticism.

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Motherly: Congrats on the baby news! We loved that you got your four little ones involved with the reveal. Are they excited to have another sibling?

Hilaria Baldwin: They're really, really excited. Carmen is super excited not only because she not only has very much wanted a sister—she has Ireland [Alec's daughter from his marriage to Kim Basinger] but she lives far—so she wants someone who comes and lives in our house.

I've made a lot of people and finally, another one came out a girl. We never [intended] to have a big family… you know, I had Carmen and then I had Rafa and then I got pregnant pretty soon after I had Rafa and it was another boy, and then we said, 'Let's try!' and we had another boy. The three boys are within three years, so they're such a joy to watch [together]. As much as Carmen is a part of their little group, she's always sort of said, 'Hey, I would love to have a little sister.' So, it's been really exciting to see her get excited.

Motherly: So many parents struggle with introducing their kids to their new sibling and deal with the fear of the older child feeling jealous or left out. How did you handle that? Do you have any advice for parents going through these emotions?

HB: I think at this point we have such a crew that like, my kids are just used to a crowd all the time and it's like our house is super fun and there's always something going on. And so, you know, one to two [kids] was kind of difficult. And then for me, three we were a group and then four it was like nothing happened. You know, the kids, they love babies because they've been around so many babies. They love being together as they're always playing together and fight as well.

In terms of like introducing, one of the things that is like a ground rule for me is that— Alec and I have this on our wedding rings so it's long before we got pregnant— [it is the Spanish phrase] for 'We are a good team.' And that's our motto. It's like everything is a team in the house. There's no excluding, there is no toy that particularly belongs to somebody...They will have a blanket maybe that they sleep with or something like that, but it's not off limits to everybody else.

Of course, they break these rules at grab toys and don't want to share to do all the things that normal kids do, but the rule we keep coming to is that we want to keep everyone happy and accepted, so I think that helps. They all call the babies their babies, and I think that that helps, because it's not like mommy comes home and had this new baby and they're excluded.

Like everything else it's just embracing the fact that we're all scared. And kids really follow the guidance of the parents. If you make it fun and special, that we have the baby and it's about them, then they're gonna follow that lead. If you make it like, 'Oh, don't do that [to] baby, don't touch, be careful' and that kind of thing, it's not going to be as much of a group enjoyment thing.

Motherly: Busy Philipps recently opened up about how she almost divorced her husband over uneven parenting responsibilities. How do you and Alec divide the duties?

HB: I didn't hear about that, but I feel like that's very common…I am somebody who takes pride and am very specific about how I want things to be done. Like, I cook for my kids every night. I bathe them morning and night. When somebody gets into a fight, I want to be there to be able to deal with the dynamic. You know, with Alec, he'll sort of roll his eyes because I'm like, 'You're not doing it the way that I want it to be!'

I almost prefer to do it. I'll wake up with the kids at night. It's kind of my personality and I really enjoy it. You know, some people want support by saying, 'Hey, it's your turn to change the diaper.' But what [Alec] does for me that really, really means something is he'll look at me and he'll say, 'You're such a good mommy' and my kids will say that to me, and that's all I want in return. I'm somebody that I don't require a lot of sleep. I'm a busy body. I'm happy to check things off the list. I'm very type A, but I want to be the one who does this because I know how I want it to get done.

Motherly: You're so open about everything on social media. Do you ever feel like you want to hide more or is it therapeutic for you?

HB: I think it's a combination. I think that it's mostly therapeutic. I was always a very open person, and then all of a sudden I joined this really weird public life world and it was a very traumatic experience of everyday people are looking at you trying to find out your business. Alex was like a very old school celebrity in terms of 'this is my private life, close the doors'. We don't [have to] say anything. I mean he has been a little more outspoken than like the average sort of old school celebrities. And I tried to do that for awhile and it made me not like who I was.

And I really just started realizing, I was changing because this is how they're telling me to behave. And so I said, 'You know what, I'm not doing this anymore.' I said, 'I'm going to be open. And people are going to see that.' Once you marry somebody who is famous and your economics change...It doesn't mean that you have to be different.

And, yes, do I have my days where I really kind of want to close down and be more quiet? Sure. But in the end I realized that everybody has those days. And that's one of those the things that makes us common and connected. And that's what I've really enjoyed with this journey that we're on.

Motherly: Do you have ways that you personally deal with online criticism, or do you just kind of turn a blind eye and try to not focus on the negativity?

HB: I think I go through phases and I think a lot of it has to do with your philosophy, your emotions, where you are not just in that phase in your life. I've done things from literally copying the comment and posting it on my story. And I think that using that as a place of saying, 'Hey, this is bullying. This happened to me too and this isn't okay.' And if this person is bullying me, I guarantee you that they're bullying other people. So I'll do that. Sometimes I'll block, sometimes I'll respond.

This lady wrote me last night and [told me] I should be careful because with [yoga] twisting you can cause a miscarriage. And I had just suffered a miscarriage, so I basically should know better, and that that happened to her, that she twisted and then she had a miscarriage … Now, yes, in yoga you should not do the lower belly twists when you're pregnant, but that being said, if you twist, it's not going to cause a miscarriage...And that's one thing that, I mean I responded to her and I just responded to her saying, 'I lost my baby because my baby's heart wasn't good, not because I did something wrong.'

Too often women look at ourselves and point blame, we think, 'Well, we must have done something.' Let me tell you something from having a miscarriage: The first thing that all doctors tell you is, 'I want you to know that you didn't do anything wrong.'

Motherly: Can you tell us a little about how you're dealing with picky eating in your household?

HB: I was dealing with the pickiness of my kids and particularly Rafael, who's like my super, super picky eater. We had to sort of get very creative because he literally would prefer to not need, then to eat something he doesn't want to eat. And he is that typical picky eater where he wants he'll eat like four or five things and you know, they're good things, we're lucky with him, he likes tofu and lentils.

But at the same time, we're constantly trying to think of other things. So, I found Health Warrior bars when he was going through some really picky times and they were great because you can put them in your bag for on-the-go, and he would eat them and it wouldn't be a fight, and I know that they have really good ingredients.

The other thing we discovered from them—because getting kids to eat vegetables is really, really difficult as well —is a protein powder that it's like all plant based. So what I do is I'll make a shake for them every single day that has tons of kale and broccoli and all this kind of stuff in it. I'll put this chocolate protein powder in it and they call it a chocolate shake… So those have been like two life savers and so when they came to me and they said that they wanted to do something together, it just felt very natural and I wanted to spread the word because they've helped our family so much.

For more from Hilaria check out Season 2 of the Mom Brain podcast, co-hosted by Hilaria and Daphne Oz.

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After my son was born I found myself thrown into the darkest period of my life, overtaken by postpartum depression and anxiety. My days were awash in panic attacks from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed, with crying spells that hit without warning in between.

Most of my visitors didn't know any of this.

When they stopped by to deliver a meal or meet the baby, most people asked the question we all ask of new mothers: "How are you doing?" I answered with the automatic response we all give when asked this question: "I'm doing okay," adding with a sideways glance and shrug, "Tired, but that's just how it is."

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"How are you doing?" It's a great question to ask when we see a friend on the street or sit down for coffee to catch up on life. But when we ask it of a new mother, we subconsciously ask her to take the complex period after birth, with its hormonal shifts and emotional ups and downs, and boil it down to one sentiment.

The postpartum period deserves a better question.

The reality for each mother is different, and the answer to such a simple question may be kept private for fear of making her visitors uncomfortable if she senses they expect a glowing new mother, drunk on oxytocin.

A better question for any visitor, or even if you see a woman with a new baby on the street, is: "How are you feeling, emotionally?"

This question doesn't just invite a response, it shows a new mother that you are ready and unafraid to hear about her feelings, whatever they may be.

It shows her you understand that she may be delighted in her new baby, but are open to the possibility that she is also feeling grief for her past life, sadness at the lack of support, disappointment in the grueling and unforgiving schedule a newborn demands.

This question is even more important today, where most women are not surrounded by a village following the birth of a baby. They may be alone, doing the hard work with just the help of their partner, or if they're lucky, close friends and family. They may have no space to process what's happened to them and so they begin the habitual process of setting themselves aside for the sake of others.

A few weeks ago I was at a friend's cookout. A woman entered the backyard with a newborn. She sat down and I watched her carefully, as I do all new moms since recovering from my PPD. Scanning for signs that she might be in trouble, or struggling to maintain a facade of togetherness. I didn't see anything, but that didn't matter.

"Hey," I said. "How old is he?"

"Two weeks," she replied, shifting the peacefully sleeping baby from one arm to the other.

"That is such a crazy time," I said, painfully recalling the chaos of my own experience at two weeks postpartum. "And how are you feeling," I ventured. "Emotionally?"

I didn't even know her name. But it didn't matter. I saw a flash of surprise on her face, followed by a faint smile radiating from inside her. And with the door swung wide open, we talked for a long time about what it really feels like to be a new mother.

So how are you feeling today mama, emotionally?


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