Crowd Sourcing Breastmilk

Maureen Essen essays

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I couldn’t feed my baby. Those words still haunt me.

I remember the first time I heard that sound. I pulled my newborn baby closer and, click, I unsnapped the nursing bra I only narrowly remembered to bring to the birth. I clearly had no idea what I was doing. Football hold, cradle, do I give him a nipple sandwich?

Nursing, it’s giving your baby the best. It decreases the chances of obesity; it gives your baby an immune system; it can make your child smarter, decrease the chances of developing allergies and lower the risk of SIDS. Some even say it can lower the chances your child will develop cancer. Heck, next thing you know breastfeeding will give life to unicorns. Anyway, I was pretty sold on it and had painted a vivid picture of myself as a mother, nursing. I was convinced I’d be one of those women still nursing their toddler.   

Instead, I tried for what seemed like endless hours every day to feed our new baby. I sat hour after hour in our rocking chair trying to calm and feed the new person in our lives. I went to appointments with doctors, lactation consultants and other specialists to monitor his weight and to get help with feeding. Despite all my efforts, Dawson's care providers said he was failing to thrive and suggested we give him formula through a tube. We tried five or six different types of formula, none of them would stay down. Dawson was still barely gaining weight and had to have a series of tests and x-rays to help determine if something was wrong. After treating his tongue and lip ties successfully we knew he was fine. We moved on to me.

Test after test, pill after pill, there was no good explanation. I pumped and pumped until I needed antibiotics. Nothing. I couldn’t feed my baby.

The motherly image of a breastfeeding woman and her baby was a bubble that was jarringly burst by my reality, my diagnosis—a lack of glandular tissue or hypoplasia. No matter how hard I tried, this rare condition rendered my body physiological unable to produce more than a handful of ounces of milk per day, far fewer than my baby needed, and no formula we tried would stay down.

But, I was lucky. I found the Mother's Milk Bank of Montana, a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting, screening, pasteurizing and distributing human donor breast milk to infants and children with a medical need. They had a fund to donate a small amount of milk for first time moms and babies in need of breast milk. I was thrilled and grateful. The milk stayed in his belly and he started to gain weight…finally!  

Knowing this milk was the ticket to a growing baby, I started working diligently to persuade the insurance company to cover the high cost of this milk and asking friends with new babies if they had extra milk to donate. I had to complete a long list of tests in an attempt to determine why I didn't produce enough milk. I submitted all the information along with notes from doctors and nurses we saw documenting the medical need for this milk. The results were rewarding—Dawson is the first baby in Montana to have the milk paid for by insurance. We also found ourselves with donated milk from friends to supplement to milk bank milk. It was a huge victory that allowed us to finally relax and enjoy the time with our baby, now almost three months old.

We are now proud to say we crowdsource our breast milk supply. The majority of Dawson's food, all milk, comes from the Mother's Milk Bank of Montana. We are so incredibly grateful for them, their community of donors and our milk-donating friends. Dawson was having such a hard time before we found them. There are no words to express my relief.

I’ve passed on the nursing bras and I’m still working on redefining my image of a mom, but in the meantime, I know Dawson is reaping the benefits of breast milk, even if it isn’t my own.



About the Author

Maureen Essen

Mo Essen is a mom living the dream in Missoula, MT with the men in her life - her son and husband.

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