ASSIGNMENT 13: Sharing mothers’ milk

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- You can find it around the worldwide web, on sites like Facebook and Craigslist, some of it selling for a few dollars per ounce.

“In some ways wet nursing has been around since the beginning of time and this is just the modern day variation of it,” Gundersen Health System Lactation Consultant Ann Devine explained.

Lactation consultant Ann Devine calls it a new twist on wet nursing. Moms connecting over Facebook to share breast milk.

Devine says, “every mother is different and some mothers are blessed with more milk than they can deal with which is where the milk depot comes in.”

Since 2011 Gundersen's Onalaska Center has operated its own milk depot. It’s a place where mothers who overproduce can donate to mothers of premature babies who don't produce enough milk.

“I felt extraordinarily inadequate I felt like I failed,” Eau Claire mother Jeannine Fisk said.

Four years ago Fisk was one of those moms that didn't produce enough milk. The new mom wanted to breast feed, but her newborn son Logan was considered a healthy baby so they didn't qualify to receive milk from a milk bank.

“I found a mom down in La Crosse that was willing to share some milk with me,” Fisk explained.

Fisk turned to Facebook to feed her son. In all, she connected with five different mom's to relieve countless gallons of milk.

Her milk sharing experience eventually led her to join forces with other moms to launch a page solely dedicated to milk sharing called Human Milk 4 Human Babies-Wisconsin. The site connects moms who are willing to share milk for free.

Misty Pennigar is one of the moms who shares her milk with other moms. The Eau Claire woman decided to donate after her son Kenton was delivered stillborn in March of this year.

“Just knowing that I’m benefitting babies that need my milk is great,” Pennigar remarked.

So what's the difference between milk that's shared between mom's that connect online and milk that's shared through a milk bank? The answer lies in plenty of tests and pasteurization.

“Mothers are screed for a variety of different communicable diseases before they will accept that milk,” Devine explained.

Ann Devine says mothers are screened for diseases like HIV and Hepatitis before they can start donating. Even after milk is collected its pasteurized to kill off any bacteria that could make babies sick.

“I used raw mothers’ milk and my son never got sick. I don't consider myself lucky that he didn't get sick,” Jeannine Fisk said.

Fisk says her now four year old son is just one example of how milk sharing can be done safely and correctly. Despite the warning from doctors, Fisk says the risk was worth the reward

Fisk says, “For me breast milk sharing saved my nursing relationship with my son and I wouldn't have it any other way.”

Gundersen Health System in La Crosse says it is always looking for donors for its milk depot in Onalaska. A little closer to home, an effort is underway to start a milk bank in Eau Claire called Kenton's Place. We have much more information on both of these efforts on the right-hand side of this screen.

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