More Than Milk: How Community Milk Sharing Changed the Lives of 4 Women

December 12, 2022

When Aresha Auzenne had breast-reduction surgery at the age of 18, nobody told her that decision could affect her infant-feeding choices later in life.

The subject also didn’t come up more than a decade later when she became a mother. And yet she found herself a few days postpartum in early 2020 with a baby slowly losing weight and a midwife suggesting supplementation.

Devastated, Aresha panicked. Formula-feeding was not part of her plan, not her goal, not how she wanted to feed her child.

The midwife calmed her fears with an option Aresha had never heard of: donor human milk. The midwife knew of another mother who might have milk to share.

As far as accepting it? Aresha didn’t think twice. 

“All I knew was that my midwife was going to bring me milk,” she recalled. “I had no idea who this woman was. Nothing about where this milk came from. To be afraid of it was not even an option. All I knew was this milk was coming to me to feed my child.”

The emotion of Aresha’s story overwhelmed those attending last week’s public webinar, Community Milk Sharing: What You Need to Know About Giving and Receiving Liquid Gold. Hosted by the California Breastfeeding Coalition and facilitated by IBCLC Brandi Gates-Burgess, founder of Breast Friends Lactation Support Services, the event featured a panel of grateful milk recipients and generous donors who shared their own experiences with informal milk sharing. 

In addition to Aresha, Michele Poole shared her story as the parent of premature twins and a practicing Muslim. Michele’s experience as a NICU parent led her to her current role as a Perinatal Patient Navigator at UCSF’s EMBRACE initiative. As a donor, full-spectrum doula Ngonda Badila explained why a personal relationship with the families who receive milk from her matters.

Brandi, a self-proclaimed “dairy queen” who has shared milk both with Mothers’ Milk Bank San Jose and informally throughout her community, is the hub connecting each of these women. Though she started the panel sharing important information about the prevalence of community milk sharing in the U.S. and provided recommendations for ensuring the safety of milk provided through informal means, the true value of the webinar was in the stories told and experiences shared.

In each story, a mother’s desperation to feed her child was soothed by the generosity of another. For Aresha, who credits 20-plus mamas — she calls them angels — for providing the nutrition her son needed so they could have a bonded breastfeeding relationship, there are no words to adequately describe what milk sharing has meant to her.

“Not only were these women feeding my child, they were ultimately feeding me,” she said.

The full webinar includes historical information on the tradition of community milk sharing, recommendations for safety, best practices and additional resources. The 90-minute session was recorded and is available for a limited time to participants who register. Upon completing the registration form, you’ll gain immediate access to the webinar.