Dad quits breast milk diet, donates stash to quadruplets - Toronto Star

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Andrea Gordon Family Issues Reporter

Extraordinary things happen when you mix the age-old art of breastfeeding with the modern frenzy of cyberspace.

That's one lesson that can be gleaned from a surreal story unfolding online over the past few days.

It features an unusual cast: a California dad who launched a breast milk diet to use up his wife's frozen stash and blogged about it, a West Coast mom desperately seeking donor milk for her quadruplets, and the Canadian breastfeeding advocate who brought them together.

It's a tale of supply meets demand, primal meets high-tech, and the fickle friend that the Internet can be.

The final act is "a milky match made in heaven," says Emma Kwasnica, the Montreal mom who linked the two families this weekend. "I'm just thrilled to have been able to help in any way."

It began last Monday when a 185-pound dad known as "Curtis" decided to lay off food and see how long he could survive on breast milk alone. After all, there was a 22-cubic-foot freezer full of it that his wife had pumped since the birth of their 9-month-old daughter. Why not do something interesting with it, he figured.

The couple began to chronicle the curious experiment on a blog called "Don't have a cow, man." They used the pseudonyms "Curtis" and "Katie" and left out identifying details, figuring maybe a few parenting networks would be interested in how it went.

Little did they know how wild and woolly the online world can be.

In no time, "breast milk dad" had made headlines on news and parenting websites around the world and was being chased by the likes of ABC News and London's Daily Mail.

While some observers were fascinated, vitriol flooded in from queasy commenters and others vilifying the couple for not donating the stockpile to another mother. The pair posted details about earlier unsuccessful efforts to donate the milk. But it didn't matter.

On Day 4, overwhelmed, they pulled the blog and barred the doors.

Then "Katie," who had received comments mentioning Kwasnica's online breast-milk sharing network, Human Milk 4 Human Babies, reached out to her in Montreal.

By chance, Kwasnica had, two weeks earlier, heard from another California mother in need of milk for her quadruplets. Within hours, the network founder had put "Katie" in touch with the other woman, bringing together two California mothers from 4,000 kilometres away.

"It just worked out beautifully, serendipitously, that Katie has so much milk and (the other mother) needs so much," said Kwasnica.

She said the notion that mothers can connect through the virtual world to provide each other with "real-life help" is what her network is all about.

Kwasnica's role is not to function as a virtual milk marketing board. Instead, her group, with 20,000 members in more than 50 countries, is simply a vehicle to enable women to find each other and work out their own arrangements.

But this case was unusual, so she put the mothers in touch. The result? "Curtis" ditched his diet, and the supply will be picked up this week and delivered to the four needy babies.

"I'm so relieved and so grateful," Fiona, the mother of the quadruplets, told the Star from her home in Irvine, Calif. She agreed only to be identified by her middle name to ensure her family's privacy.

The supply means she is no longer under constant pressure to search for donors. "It will allow me to put all my energy into caring for my babies."

Fiona said she can't produce enough of her own milk to feed two baby boys and two baby girls, and needs another 60 ounces a day — or 420 ounces a week.

The infants, born in June at 33 weeks and weighing about 3.5 pounds each, are doing well. But one daughter developed a serious digestive disorder common to premature babies, which has already resulted in one surgery and will require another. She cannot tolerate formula. And Fiona is determined that all four babies continue to consume only breast milk because of its antibodies and nutrients.

"I just feel these guys were so far behind the 8-ball already, they had so much catching up to do, and to me it's the least I can do," said Fiona. "I owe it to them."

To date, she has relied on two donors — who have provided bloodwork and physician's notes to verify their health — but organizing and travelling to replenish the supply has been a major challenge.

And she doesn't exactly have a lot of spare time. The 45-year-old mom also has two older children, ages 4 and 22 months. This new supply of several thousand ounces has eased the pressure.

Informal milk sharing and "wet nurses" have been around as long as humankind. But in the modern world, it's a topic that generates controversy and stays largely underground.

Groups like the World Health Organization advise mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue for two years. Mothers who struggle with it or who face health issues often lack the support to keep going.

Last year, after a spate of news reports on milk sharing, Health Canada warned mothers against using unprocessed breast milk from other women, citing the risk of transmitting bacteria or viruses such as HIV.

The Canadian Pediatric Society, recognizing the demand, has called for a network of formal milk banks. But in the meantime, it does not endorse informal milk sharing.

Kwasnica says women should have the right to educate themselves and make their own decision. The Human Milk 4 Human Babies website encourages "informed choice" and has links to public health information on breast milk and disease transmission, safety tips for donors and recipients, details about screening, and demonstrations of how parents can flash-pasteurize donor milk on a stovetop.

Meanwhile, the donor couple in California is keeping underground too.

A guarded Katie, who refused to disclose her real name, said in a phone interview she and her spouse were only trying to "normalize" breast milk with their blog.

"This had nothing to do with wanting attention or our 15 minutes of fame," said the doula and mother of three, who is still nursing her daughter but no longer expressing milk.

"People need to realize that breasts are made for feeding babies. It's just milk. There's nothing sexual about it. There's nothing gross about it."

And the blog? No chance it will be resurrected, she says. Not even to publish the final chapter to this story.

"I'm very happy the milk is going to a grateful mom. It's a happy ending and that's good enough for us."

25 Sep, 2011

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