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Breast Milk Sharing An Alternative To Infant Formula, Online Answer For Breastfeeding Fail

Kevin and Jerrika Longueville in April with daughter Annora, 3, and son Milo, seven months.

Jerrika Longueville is a 28-year-old mother of two in Fayetteville who'd "always known I was planning to breastfeed — never crossed my mind I wouldn't be able to."

But Longueville has hypoplasia of the mammary glands. She doesn't have all the glandular tissue needed to produce sufficient milk.

So Longueville has become pretty savvy at finding donated breast milk on social media pages, like the Facebook-based group pages for Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets.

"They are mostly posts of women asking for milk, with the occasional post of a woman with milk."

The competition, she says, is brutal.

Why do new moms bother? There's plenty of infant formula at most any corner store.

For many new mothers, infant formula is not a satisfactory substitute for human breast milk.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a white paper suggesting there's enough evidence of the superiority of human milk, that breastfeeding, "Should not be considered a lifestyle choice but rather a basic health issue."

Breastfeeding is associated with a 36 percent reduced risk of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, a 58 percent drop in the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis, a 63 percent reduction in serious colds and ear and throat infections, a 64 percent cut in the incidence of GI tract infections, a 30 percent drop in the likelihood of Type 1 diabetes, and other markers.

What's more, it's a natural birth control; breastfeeding delays renewed menstruation. It's also associated with postpartum weight loss.

Formula is entirely derived from cows' milk, points out Dr. Misty Virmani, a pediatrician in the neonatology department at UAMS.

"It requires extensive modification of the cow's milk in order to come closer to emulating what is naturally present in breast milk, things like removing bovine fats and replacing it with vegetable fats ... even taking out a significant portion of the proteins that are in there and replacing that with proteins more compatible with human digestion."


Cows' milk can be modified for human digestion but it can't be fortified with the properties we now know are present in mother's milk, mostly immunological properties, Virmani says.


"While formula does accomplish giving adequate nutrition, it doesn't address any of the other needs of the baby, particularly the premature infant's immune system. Babies for the most part are born with immune systems not prepared to meet the outside world."


From the American Academy of Pediatrics to the U.S. Surgeon General, to the Arkansas Department of Health, the campaign to raise breastfeeding has been so effective that some experts think its getting overheated.


"I had noticed that there was such a stigma around formula feeding, even for mothers who couldn't breastfeed their children," says professor and researcher Cynthia Colen, who along with a colleague published a paper in 2014 called "Is Breast Truly Best?"


"We do know that breastfeeding is very beneficial for both mothers and babies ... but in promoting it, it's really done a disservice both to women who are unable to breastfeed, and also in terms of being honest with what we know according to the scientific literature."


Specifically, Colen's research found that some of the population studies may have selection biases — what appears to be the benefits of breastfeeding may instead be benefits of parents' class and education. Moreover, the apparent benefits of breastfeeding may diminish as babies become children and young adults.


"So, you know, your child is going to be OK if for some reason you have to supplement with formula."


For Jerrika Longueville, shared breast milk is just one part of her babies' diets, though for her, it's the happiest part.


"This is the next best thing I can do for my baby that I can't do because my body doesn't allow it. That said, my oldest daughter was on 50 percent formula for the first year, and she's perfect and amazing. I don't think formula is evil.

"It's just that I would prefer breast milk if I can have it. And I work really hard to find enough for Milo."


This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

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