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Options for Giving Your Baby Human Milk

Not surprisingly, most women assume that breastfeeding means suckling a baby at his mother’s breast. That’s certainly one option. But there are actually several options for giving your baby human milk.

Feeding at the breast

We all know what this is, right? I’m a big fan of feeding at the breast because it offers the best nutritional, immunological, and developmental benefits. Nonetheless, it’s just one of several options for giving your baby human milk.

Exclusive pumping

By “exclusively pumping,” I mean that the baby never suckles the breast. At all.

Sometimes, that’s a matter of circumstance. If the baby is too premature, too sick or is unable to suckle, that leads to exclusive pumping.

Other times, it’s a matter of choice. For one reason or another, a mother does not want to suckle a healthy baby at breast. According to some estimates, that’s about 5% of breastfeeding mothers in the United States.  

Before you choose exclusive pumping, look at options for giving your baby human milk. Weigh the pros and cons. Pumping and feeding your milk to your baby is not quite same as feeding at the breast. What you do is ultimately up to you, but be sure to listen to my interview with author Kathleen Rasmussen on this topic.

Speaking of options, if you’re exclusively pumping, either by circumstance or choice, consider all of the pump options. One is likely to work better for you than another. The pump your best friend swore by, or the pump that is the latest and greatest may or may not be the right pump for you.

Hand expression

In the past, hand expression has been dismissed as inconvenient, time-consuming, messy, germy, and old-fashioned. All of those descriptions are based on myth. I can give you 21 reasons why you’ll love hand expression.

If you’re considering hand expression — for any reason — get more information. Dr. Jane Morton and I offer some compelling reasons why hand expression and “hands-on-pumping” is best for premature babies. If your baby is healthy, listen to some helpful tips from Francie Webb. You should also read her book, Go Milk Yourself: You Have Power. Express It! 

Using donated milk

No post on options for giving your baby human milk would be complete without explaining donated milk.

I greatly prefer the term “human milk” for several reasons. One reason is that the broad term human milk encompasses mother’s own milk, or milk from a donor. However, I am careful about using the term “donor milk” because there are two types of donated milk, milk donated at a formal milk bank and milk that has been donated directly from a mother.

Formal milk bank donation

Milk that has been donated from screened volunteers and is dispensed by a formal milk bank. Like blood banks, these recognized, formal banks ensure the safety of what they dispense. In this case, donor milk.  

In a fascinating interview, Gillian Weaver told us some very interesting stories about helping to establish formal milk banks all over the globe.  

Milk donated by any mother

Milk that has been donated by any mother can also correctly called donor milk. I prefer to call this sharing between mothers shared milk or community milk. One example might be milk given by a lactating sister or a neighbor. Another example might be through an organization such as Eats on Feets, or Human Milk 4 Human Babies. (For more information, listen to my interview with Emma Kwasnica.)

Options for giving your baby human milk have increased now that some insurance companies, including TRICARE, now pay for donor milk obtained from a HMBANA-accredited facility. And, if you’re working in a hospital or giving birth in a hospital, read on. You might want to review the hospital’s policy on donor human milk.

Many options, your decision

Only in rare cases is formula-feeding a better option. Unquestionably, human milk is best for human babies. How you give it is a different question. This is your baby, your body, your budget. You can make whatever decision you feel is best for your baby, yourself and your family.

How did you decide what option was right for you and your baby? Did you use one method exclusively, or a combination of options to give your baby human milk? Share in the comments below!

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