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Published May 02, 2012, 11:30 PM

Relying on the the kindness of strangers: Donated breast milk helps formula-intolerant baby thrive

OAKES, N.D. - A few months after Amber Golackson’s body stopped producing breast milk, she discovered her baby couldn’t drink formula. “She was spitting up every bottle,” Golackson said.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

OAKES, N.D. - A few months after Amber Golackson’s body stopped producing breast milk, she discovered her baby couldn’t drink formula.

“She was spitting up every bottle,” Golackson said.

Now, there are women from North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin acting as modern wet nurses and helping to feed her baby.

Golackson started out breastfeeding her daughter, but Macyn wouldn’t latch. Golackson tried pumping and feeding her daughter bottled breast milk, but it wasn’t as effective and her body stopped producing milk.

She switched to baby formula but then Macyn, who is now 9 months old, started vomiting and wasn’t gaining enough weight.

They lived in Wisconsin at the time and a doctor told Golackson that it was acid reflux and Macyn would get over it.

But she didn’t.

Finally, after moving to North Dakota, a doctor said Macyn needed breast milk, and Golackson discovered milk sharing.

“Ever since then, she hasn’t been spitting up at all,” Golackson said.

She found a couple of websites (modernmilksharing.com and hm4hb.com) where parents who need breast milk can connect with women who have extra. She also posted a request for breast milk on Craigslist, a website for classified ads. And she started writing a blog: milkformacyn.blogspot.com.

Courtney Burress, who lives in Duluth, Minn., but is originally from Adrian, N.D., is one of the milk donors. She’s given 785 ounces to Macyn so far.

“It’s just a really good feeling to be able to provide food for her that she can tolerate,” Burress said.

Burress works full time from home and uses a breast pump three times a day for about an hour each time, so she has a good milk supply, she said.

She initially thought about trying to sell her breast milk because she had heard it was worth a lot. After doing some online research, she decided to find someone to donate it to because she had a lot frozen she didn’t want to go to waste, she said.

Some women make a one-time donation of whatever breast milk they have left in their freezer after they finish nursing their own babies. Others are able to pump more milk than their own babies need.

“Most of the moms we’ve dealt with are chronic over-producers,” Golackson said.

Golackson picks up the milk from donors who live nearby. Otherwise, it’s shipped frozen with dry ice.

Before accepting a donation, Golackson said she always asks if the donor moms smoke, drink, take prescription or street drugs, and if they have a communicable disease.

“If I feel like a mom wasn’t being honest, I could ask her to get proof from her doctor that she was completely clean, but so far we haven’t run into that issue,” Golackson said. “I have had to turn down a couple moms who were smokers.”

Ever since switching from formula to breast milk, Macyn has been thriving, Golackson said.

“She is gaining weight and growing,” Golackson said. “She’s much happier. Before she was fussing all day and all night. Now, she’s smiling and giggling and crawling all over the place.”

Burress plans to meet Golackson and Macyn this summer. She also gets to see pictures of her on Facebook.

Both Golackson and Burress have gotten mixed reactions to the situation.

“Some people think it’s kind of odd that I’m providing milk for another baby,” Burress said. “Others think it’s wonderful to do and are really encouraging and supportive of it.”

Golackson said that while some people have been supportive, others have said Macyn should be on goat’s milk instead.

Macyn may be off breast milk in three months, if she’s able to tolerate whole cow’s milk, Golackson said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends consulting with a health care provider if you decide to feed a baby human milk from someone other than the birth mother. The FDA also suggests only using milk from a source that has screened its milk donors, like a milk bank.

Human milk banks screen donors for health behaviors and communicable diseases, much like the way blood banks screen donors, according to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, a voluntary professional association for human milk banks.

According to the association: Milk is transported to the milk bank frozen. The milk from several donors is pooled after thawing, and then heat-treated to kill any bacteria or viruses. The milk is processed and then refrozen.

The milk is only sold to people with a doctor’s prescription or hospital purchase order. Processing fees cover the cost of collecting, pasteurizing and dispensing the milk.

There are only 15 operational or developing milk banks in the United States, according to the association. The closest to our area are in Colorado and Iowa.

But milk from a milk bank can cost as much as $5 an ounce, according to a donor on modernmilksharing.com. And babies can drink anywhere from 15 to 35 ounces of milk a day, depending on their age and weight, according to babycenter.com.

Human Milk 4 Human Babies, a global milk-sharing network made up of thousands of people from more than 50 countries, acknowledges there can be risks in connecting with donors online, and states it’s up to individuals to make informed choices about milk sharing.

“Participants need to fully analyze these risks and make conscious decisions,” the website states. “It is up to the participants to get to know each other, to ask questions, and to continue talking and engaging with one another until a relationship of trust is established.”

The network said it’s possible to pasteurize breast milk at home by “flash-heating” it on a stovetop. Doing so can destroy a number of pathogens while retaining the greatest amount of the milk’s beneficial properties, the website states.

To flash-heat breast milk, place a glass jar of milk in a small pan of water. Make sure the water is about two fingers above the level of milk so all the milk is heated well. Heat the water until it reaches a rolling boil and then remove the jar of milk immediately. Boiling it too long will damage some of the nutrients in the milk, the website states.

The milk can be fed to a baby after it cools to room temperature.