Milk sharing a blessing for local moms

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Elyse Reckelhoff cares for her 4-month-old twins Zavier, right, and Zaylee at their home in Ferdinand on Monday. 

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

When Jasper native Amy Thomasson — now of Evansville — gave birth to her second son, Riley, two months ago, she knew she wouldn’t produce enough breast milk to feed him.

Thomasson has microsupply, only producing 4 to 6 ounces of milk a day. With her first son, 5-year-old Reed, that meant supplementing nursing with formula while trying everything to increase her milk supply — certain foods, herbal supplements, you name it, Thomasson, tried it. It turned her into a crazy person, she said.

So, she decided not to do that with Riley. She would feed him the milk she could make and feed him formula. That didn’t work. Unlike his brother, Riley couldn’t handle the formula. It upset his stomach. Desperate to find breast milk for Riley, Thomasson posted in the Human Milk 4 Human Babies - Indiana Facebook group. The group connects mothers looking for breast milk with mothers with extra they are willing to donate in an informal setting.

The post led Thomasson to Elyse Reckelhoff of Ferdinand, a mother with oversupply who had just given birth to twins. Now, Reckelhoff feeds her twins and Riley.

“She’s literally feeding our baby,” Thomasson said. “She’s giving him something I can’t.” 

Sharing breast milk isn’t uncommon among new moms. Human Milk 4 Human Babies has Facebook pages serving several states. For moms looking for a more formal system, milk banks are an option.

Reckelhoff donates in both systems. Informally, she donates milk to Thomasson; formally, she is a donor for Prolacta Bioscience, a California-based company that uses human milk to create nutritional products for premature infants and neonatal intensive care units.

Closer to home, The Milk Bank in Indianapolis provides pasteurized donated human milk to hospitals and outpatients across the country. Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center is a drop-off point for The Milk Bank, and Emily Schwindel of St. Anthony donated her excess milk there.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Schwindel said.

To donate to a formal milk bank, women have to complete interviews, fill out questionnaires and get clearance from their doctors and pediatricians. They also can’t take certain medications, smoke or drink alcohol. If they or someone in their families get sick, they have to inform the milk bank.

Then, in addition to feeding their own babies, they pump and package the excess milk to send to the milk banks, though the banks provide shipping supplies.

For Schwindel, who donated about 400 ounces of milk every two weeks, that meant pumping one breast while her child nurse on the other. She also pumped during work breaks.

“I kind of felt like a milking cow sometimes,” Schwindel said. “But it was worth it to help another baby.”

Schwindel donated milk for a year before she began weaning her child. She also donated informally with her first child.

This isn’t the first time Reckelhoff — who produces 36 ounces of milk, enough to feed a 2-month old baby, in one sitting — has donated excess breast milk. When she had her middle son, she learned about milk sharing on Facebook and donated 2,000 ounces of milk informally to other moms in the community.

When she found out she was having twins this time, she didn’t expect to be able to donate, figuring the twins would need all her milk. Instead, her body produced more. Reckelhoff found that the more she nursed and pumped, the more milk her body produced and she once again had a deep freezer filled with bags of frozen milk. That’s when she found Thomasson.

“It’s really rewarding,” Reckelhoff said. “It’s amazing what your body can do, and it’s rewarding to hear how well the other babies are doing.”

For women like Thomasson who receive the donated milk, the donations bring peace of mind. Thomasson isn’t against formula feeding, but she said it’s been a blessing to have the breast milk for Riley because his stomach handles it better and he’s a happier baby. He’s also growing much more quickly than his older brother, who was formula fed, did.

It also means that Riley can receive the benefits of breast milk that aren’t in formula. According to womenshealth.gov, a federal government website managed by the Office on Women’s Health, breast milk contains hormones and antibodies that help develop babies’ immune systems and protect them from diseases. If a mother has the flu, for example, her breast milk will contain antibodies to protect her child from the virus.

Studies have shown that babies who receive breast milk also have a lower risk for several medical issues, including asthma, childhood leukemia, lower respiratory infections and Type 2 diabetes. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends breast feeding and breast milk over formula.

Reckelhoff, Schwindel and Thomasson said it seems to them that milk sharing and donating is becoming more well known and popular among new moms, which they all agree is a positive.

“You can do so much more with breast milk than people think,” Schwindel said.

Outside of milk-sharing circles, Thomasson has had many people question her decision to use donated breast milk. When asked, Thomasson compares the process to the wet nurses of the past. She also points out that the women donating milk are also nursing their own children and are open about any medications they take.

With Reckelhoff, Thomasson said, she has an extra level of assurance because Reckelhoff has gone through the screening process with Prolacta.

Eventually, the questions led Thomasson to write a Facebook post explaining her decision to use donated milk. In the post, Thomasson shared a photo of the 1 ounce of milk she produced one morning in a bottle next to the four bottles Reckelhoff produced one morning.

“It’s gut-wrenching to see your baby screaming in pain because you don’t’ have enough milk to feed him, and the alternative is making him so sick it hurts,” Thomasson wrote in the post. “...Is it weird to use another woman’s milk? Maybe for you. Is it any weirder than giving him dried milk that came from a cow and then went to a lab to have vitamins and chemicals added to it?”

There’s nothing wrong with formula, Thomasson said. It just didn’t work for Riley. Having someone like Reckelhoff who’s willing to donate what Riley needs has been a blessing for Thomasson.

“It blows my mind,” she said. “That they would donate [their milk] to someone is amazing.”




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