Breast Milk: An Unexpected Gift

Editor’s Note: This post features the personal opinions of NBCF’s Marketing Manager, Rebecca H. Anderson, a nursing mom and milk donor.

Which healthy things have you been surprised to love? I always planned to breastfeed because I felt I “should”—kind of like taking vitamins or going to the gym. There are so many good reasons to breastfeed: it’s considered healthiest for baby, may prevent breast cancer for mom and improve breast cancer prognosis, and it saves money (the biggest motivator for me). However, I never expected to actually love breastfeeding or the feeling of closeness it has brought with each of my babies…probably because I always considered myself more of a career woman than a maternal figure. The wonderful thing about the modern age is that you can be both. The 2015 theme for “World Breastfeeding Week”, August 1-7, is “Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s Make It Work!” Organizers hope to increase access to supportive nursing workplaces that offer adequate time and privacy for pumping.

I’m thankful to have had two different employers (and bosses) who embraced this aspect of work/life balance; I even found a private space to pump at a NASCAR race, moments before participating in an NBCF check presentation with Danica Patrick and GoDaddy! Still, working for a breast cancer charity has given me an entirely new reason to be grateful for the blessing of breastfeeding. Every day, I meet inspirational women who have had to overcome much bigger challenges than clogged ducts or latch issues:

Earlier this year, we introduced you to Nicki, a nine-year survivor who had a miracle baby two years after menopause-inducing breast cancer treatment. She didn’t nurse her first son, but upon learning she was pregnant again was excited for a second chance at nursing…until she remembered she couldn’t—she’d had a double mastectomy. Nicki shared that the most painful part was when acquaintances, who didn’t know her history of breast cancer, emphasized that “breast is best” while attributing their children’s perfect health to nursing. It hit a nerve for Nicki, who was formula feeding her son, diagnosed with pyloric stenosis, a digestive complication. She recalls, “I would have loved to breastfeed him, but I didn’t have a choice.” Fortunately, Collin, a July 4th baby is now a healthy seven-year-old “firecracker” and Nicki’s story is a powerful endorsement for sensitivity—you may never know the reasons someone is not breastfeeding.

Jessica, a mom of five, nursed each of her first four children well over a year, but had to abruptly wean her then five-month-old youngest last year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She remembers, “I loved the connection I had with my babies through nursing & I took it for granted.” Now cancer-free, Jessica is very grateful to the friends that rallied around her to provide donor milk for little Gracyn over the next several months.

Megan, mom to Sam & Luke, and now pregnant with a third son, discovered her inflammatory breast cancer in 2010 while weaning then sixteen-month-old Sam. She is also grateful for the blessing of donor milk, having received enough from the Rocky Mountain Milk Bank to get Luke to six months old. I spoke to several Human Milk Banking Association affiliates throughout the country that serve milk to babies of post-mastectomy moms like Megan.

If you’re able to breastfeed this World Breastfeeding Week (and National Breastfeeding Month), I hope you’ll choose to be grateful, yet humble, about your ability to do something so healthy for both you and your baby.  If you’re blessed to be able to make more milk than your baby needs, consider milk donation. Moms have thanked me for donating milk, but I feel as though I’m the one who has received a gift—the blessing of health.

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