I need to supplement my child: what now?

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Let's talk about one of the scariest moments a parent can face. The baby has been fussy and seemingly unsatisfied after nursing. You make an appointment and the pediatrician informs you that you baby is losing weight. A rush of emotions and an overwhelming amount of questions pop into their head. Including a very important one: what do we do next? 

While we want to preserve the nursing relationship, the reality is that supplementation may be necessary while we work on increasing the mother's milk supply (I talk about tips for increasing low milk supply here). There are a few options for supplementation that we can use to maintain an exclusively human milk diet while increasing the mother's milk supply.

Lets hear an update from Max [name changed]:

|| Eight Months ||

This one has been a month for the books-and not in a good way. It’s been ROUGH and we’re all tired. I’ve been officially teething (swollen gums and all) for almost 2 months and now my top two teeth are righttttt there. Mama says she can see the whites of them and it is almost a pathetic stretch of gum keeping them from being through entirely. But boy do they hurt and I absolutely let everyone know. I chew on everything day and night. But that’s not been the only thing; I’m also struggling with eating. It looks like I’ve lost about a pound in the last month or so so I’m only 15 lbs and 3 oz and we’re working on chunking me up again. Thanks to at least three local moms, my parents have close to 700 oz of donated breastmilk to get me through. All of this eating, and fighting eating, has me waking up 2-3 times a night again too. I’m telling you, it’s been a long month. Not all bad though. I’ve finally started sitting up more independently and I love toys and my brother still. Once I do finally eat I’m the happiest and most laid back boy ever. My parents will keep me even after the long and hard months.

What is Milk Sharing?

In this case, Max refused to take a bottle with formula, and at 8 months, was too young to switch to cow's milk. Coming to the rescue, a loving community of mothers shared their extra milk so that Max would have enough to get him through to 1 year of age. This is what we call milk sharing - when one mother offers her expressed breastmilk to another mother to feed to her child. You can read more about who and why women share their milk in a neat observational study completed by my good friend, Maryanne Perrin, here.

Is Milk Sharing Safe?

According to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, it is encouraged that mothers who are seeking milk through milk sharing should be educated about how to do it safely. Tips from ABM include:

  • Ensuring the donating mother is free from illness - HIV, Hepatitis B, and HTLV-1 are of particular concern
  • Making sure the donating mother is not taking contraindicated medications and is not taking herbal preparations
  • Does not engage in high-risk social practices (e.g. smoking, illicit drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, etc.)

You can read the entire position statement here.'

Where can I access shared milk?

There are a few ways to access shared milk:

  • Through a close family member or friend who has extra milk
  • Reaching out to local lactation support groups to find mothers in the area who may have extra milk
  • Using social media groups run by organizations who facilitate milk sharing (like Eats on Feets)

What are the other options for supplementation?

There are some other options for supplementation and they include obtaining donor human milk through a non-profit or for-profit milk banking organization, and formula supplementationThe Human Milk Banking Association of North America has a few milk banks that dispense donor milk to mothers directly (rather than just to hospitals) including Mother' Milk Bank Northeast. There are also for-profit companies like Prolacta that sell a pasteurized human milk product. However, using donor human milk, especially if it is going to be for longer than a few days can be very pricey. In the case of long-term supplementation, milk sharing or formula supplementation is going to be the more affordable way to go.

As always, please seek medical support if your baby is losing weight or having trouble nursing.