It Takes a Village: Peer-to-peer Milksharing

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Peer-to-peer, grassroots community milksharing is replicating a tribal, "it takes a village" approach to child raising for the internet age. Since optimal nutrition is linked to human flourishing, the business of feeding babies has a tangible impact on future generations. Breastmilk is the optimal form of infant nutrition, but breastfeeding is not possible for everyone, leaving many to rely upon a competitive formula industry increasingly occupied by "Big Food" corporations. Milksharing provides an alternative that feeds babies, saves money, and weaves together human lives. I hope to help share this story.

I write in allegiance with World Milksharing Week, September 24-30, 2013: "We hope that by raising awareness about milksharing, families will never again feel forced into feeding breastmilk substitutes – an act which is not without risk to the health of the child. If a mother is unable to breastfeed, or unable to produce enough breastmilk, families can access the milk of another healthy woman through wet-nursing or milk donation. The incredible sense of community that is created among donor and recipient families who partake in milksharing is to be celebrated. Raising awareness about the possibility of milksharing will prevent thousands of ounces of breastmilk from being dumped down the drain by mothers who didn't know there was another option. Breastmilk is not a scarce commodity and there are women around the world who are willing to share."

The first half of this essay explains the circumstances that led me to seek out donor milk, and the second half describes milksharing and my experiences with it.

And so, my story:

I never so much as held a baby before my son was born in June 2013, three days before my 26th birthday. I didn't know a lot about babies, but I did always know that I wanted to breastfeed. In addition to being the "biologically normal" way to feed a baby, I was excited to participate in a sacred relationship that has been passed down before me from generation to generation.

I don't pass judgment on how other people feed their babies. Although some of the breastmilk versus formula camps can seem rabid and entrenched, I realize that life is complicated. Issues ranging from the economical (mothers working full-time jobs that don't allow time for pumping) to the medical (mothers undergoing chemotherapy) can make breastfeeding difficult or impossible for some.

But for myself, I was not comfortable feeding mass-market, industrial GMO formula to my baby.

Formula is not poison, but it doesn't measure up to breastmilk in several important ways. Breastmilk confers protection against infection by way of antibodies and immune cells. Its nutrient bioavailability means that it is more easily and efficiently digested. It also evolves over time, adapting to the changing needs of a growing baby. (See Ask Dr. Sears, "Nutrient by Nutrient Why Breast is Best".)

I educated myself about breastfeeding as much as possible while I was still pregnant. At 36 weeks, I was the only pregnant woman attending my local breastfeeding support group. I made advance contact with a lactation consultant should any issues arise, and I assembled a host of useful supplies, including nursing bras, a breast pump, and lanolin ointment.

After nearly 30 hours of labor, Ellis was born at The Birth Center in Bryn Mawr, PA – the oldest continually-operational birth center in the United States. I knew that I wanted a natural birth, for some of the same reasons that I wanted to breastfeed. And as a graduate student who studies altered states of consciousness, I wanted to experience childbirth full on.

His birth was everything I had hoped for – expansive, empowering, and free of medications and interventions. But breastfeeding immediately got off to a shaky start. In the first hours after birth, Ellis latched on tentatively only a handful of times, and he would never stay on for more than a few seconds.

It is usually a requirement that breastfeeding be established – with at least 2 successful feeds – before families are discharged from The Birth Center, but they needed to make an exception in our case. With an unexpectedly high number of laboring women arriving, the facilities were exceeding capacity, and in order to avoid transferring someone to the hospital, they needed to flip our room as soon as possible. We were discharged early and went on our way.

The following days were some of the most challenging of my life. We were hoping that breastfeeding would improve after Ellis adjusted to the world, but it didn't. Latching was difficult, and even when successful, he would frequently fall asleep while nursing. I hadn't slept for two straight nights by the time Ellis was born, and I was never able to catch up on that sleep. Ellis was crying constantly. Latching was painful, and before I learned about side-lying, I would sit up for hours every night desperately trying to feed him.

At our home visit two days later, the nurse did a weight check. Although all babies lose some weight after birth, our originally 8 lb 11 oz boy was nearing a loss of 10% of his birth weight – the threshold after which formula supplementation is often recommended. Even more worrying, he wasn't having any dirty diapers. The small part of me that had never changed diapers before might have been relieved, but I knew that it wasn't a good sign.

With the sleep deprivation, postpartum hormones, who knows – I started to panic. I knew that if breastfeeding is mismanaged, milk supply can plummet – a process referred to as "secondary lactation failure." If milk isn't regularly and efficiently removed from the breast, the body is signaled to ramp down production. I worried that I was doing something wrong, that I was messing up, and I beat myself up over it.

We visited with a lactation consultant, who provided us with her arsenal of tricks to increase milk supply: nursing on demand, rather than on a schedule; oatmeal, brewer's yeast, and black strap molasses lactation cookies; fenugreek and other herbal galactagogues; even a hoppy beer, which would double by taking the edge off my frayed nerves. I tried them all.

Despite that initial effort, a visit to the pediatrician five days after birth confirmed our fears: Ellis was down to 7 lb 10 oz. He had lost over a pound, 12% of his birth weight. The second lactation consultant at our pediatrician's office handed us a six-pack of ready-to-pour formula, and prescribed a draconian regimen: initiate breastfeeding every 2 hours, followed immediately by pumping, followed by feeding whatever expressed milk was produced to the baby through a syringe (to avoid the "nipple confusion" and breast aversion that sometimes occurs when introducing bottles too early). As soon as this was done once, it was nearly time to do it again. Every 2 hours, 24 hours a day.

That second lactation consultant watched us nurse. Ellis's latch was shallow, but otherwise seemed fine. But then she studied my breasts.

"Did your breasts grow during pregnancy?"

Not much, no, actually. No, they hadn't.

"Try the pumping, but you might not be able to produce enough milk to feed him."

I was shocked. I had heard the mantras so many times: "Trust your body to make the perfect amount of milk for your baby." "You can be an A cup or a triple D – you'll still make all the milk your baby needs."
At this point, I was crying most of the time – and crying even more in knowing that my crying wasn't good for the baby. In the rare snippets of time that I probably should have been trying to sleep, I googled the conditions known as mammary hypoplasia and Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). I had all the physical characteristics: widely spaced breasts, breast asymmetry, presence of stretch marks in the absence of significant growth, and a lack of fullness. Although it is impossible to tell by these traits alone whether milk supply will be adequate to feed a baby, all of the pieces came together in my case.

The reality of the situation began to sink in: I was experiencing primary lactation failure, as opposed to secondary. I realized that my body was not going to produce enough milk no matter what best habits or interventions I attempted. Even pumping around the clock, I was only ever able to produce 3-4 ounces per day.

I always knew that my breasts were very small, and I used to be happy with them. I never had trouble fitting them into clothes, and they never got in the way while I exercised. But suddenly I started viewing my body as broken, and myself as a failure. Between my sense of guilt and grieving the loss of my breastfeeding relationship, I was emotionally devastated.

In order to preserve sanity and maximize sleep, my husband started feeding Ellis mostly formula with a bottle while I pumped. Although at-breast supplemental nursing systems exist that channel formula or expressed milk through a tube while the baby nurses – thereby avoiding nipple confusion and maximally stimulating the body to produce more milk – I was too exhausted to tinker with yet another thing. The thought of sitting upright through every night feed with a container of milk tied around my neck (before sitting through another round of pumping!) and of constantly sanitizing minuscule plastic tubing was underwhelming. (Though if I ever have another baby, with time to prepare emotionally, I will probably try it out.)

It is unclear how many women experience primary lactation failure, but 1 in 1000 is the oft-cited figure. Lactation counselor Bettina Forbes infers from that estimate that 4,000 mothers with insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) give birth each year. To provide some perspective, she points out that that's roughly the same number as Down's Syndrome children born annually. Uncovering that reality was something of a karmic return for me – since I had previously assumed that, more often than not, women who said they couldn't breastfeed were likely dealing with breastfeeding management issues that could be corrected with the proper information and support.

IGT is still a little-known condition. Forbes asks, "How can it be that…all pediatricians and ob/gyns, who are routinely trained to spot conditions far rarer than IGT, are not being educated on the tell-tale warning signs of insufficient glandular tissue? … Why are hospitals and medical professionals not setting up a routine protocol, like the American Academy of Pediatrics urged for newborn screening, so that those women [whose breasts exhibit signs of IGT] are monitored in the critical early postpartum phase and are supported to maximize their breastfeeding potential?" (See "The Risk of Invalidating Moms Who Say They Can't Breastfeed".
An article by Nancy M. Hurst in the Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health argued for just such a protocol for lactation assessment during pregnancy. (See "Recognizing and Treating Delayed or Failed Lactogenesis II".) Hurst advocates for pregnancy caregivers to routinely discuss the potential impact of breast shape, previous surgeries, minimal breast enlargement during puberty and pregnancy, and difficult previous breastfeeding experiences on future attempts at breastfeeding.

One of the several lactation consultants I saw during the first days after Ellis was born expressed hesitation about telling me of the possibility – based on my physical presentation – that I might have IGT. I can understand the desire to avoid instilling doubt into a mother's view of her ability to breastfeed – especially since, for most women, such doubts are unfounded – but I believe that such self-censorship is misguided in this instance. Advance education about the reality that I was up against would only have been beneficial in my case – sparing me the shock and heartache that permeated the first days that I shared with my newborn son. Had I been prepared with knowledge of this possibility and armed with best practices to maximize my personal breastfeeding potential, I am certain that my transition to motherhood would have been less turbulent.

And I am not alone in this mentality. In fact, it is remarkable how similarly and traumatically most women experience their diagnosis of IGT. Jacqueline from Michigan writes on the website "Not Everyone Can Breastfeed" the steps she would have taken differently had she received such a consultation during her pregnancy: renting rather than buying a $300 breast pump; keeping receipts for nursing supplies; and, "most importantly," preparing mentally for the possibility that exclusive breastfeeding might not be an option. She points out that while this problem is rare, "they tell you about very rare pregnancy conditions and L&D [labor & delivery] complications 'just in case', why shouldn't they warn women of this issue?"

The financial piece is especially noteworthy considering the cold reality of the costs of baby formula. "The Simple Dollar" estimates that formula feeding a baby an average 9,125 ounces for the first year of life would cost approximately $1,733.75. Considering this figure in terms of my graduate student stipend, along with the dawning realization of how many hours I would now need to spend washing bottles by hand while juggling motherhood with writing a PhD dissertation, contributed to my early emotional upheaval.

And that figure does not include the potential health costs of formula. Breastfeeding for six months or more has been correlated to a decreased incidence of breast cancer in women. And even organic formula – imbued as it is with capitalist market influences – prompts very real safety and ethical concerns. Since human milk contains the carbohydrate lactose in higher quantities than in cow's milk, formula manufacturers originally added lactose to their recipes. Lactose is, however, the most expensive variant of carbohydrate sweetener. As such, some manufacturers began switching to plant-based sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup. In order to compete for market share, most other formula companies followed suit.

Another troubling anecdote involves the incorporation of DHA and ARA, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both are found in human milk, and DHA is an important component in brain and eye tissue. But the author of "How To Find the Safest Organic Infant Formula" points out that the DHA and ARA added to most brands of infant formula are not the same as the DHA and ARA in breastmilk. The formula ingredients are extracted with the neurotoxic, petroleum-based solvent hexane from factory-produced strains of algae and fungus that have never been part of the human diet.

In light of the dearth of research suggesting any positive role for these ingredients, and with mounting evidence to the contrary, an article from Infact Canada writes: "Martek Biosciences Corporation, the company that supplies almost all formula companies with DHA/ARA, has admitted that the purpose of the additives is not to encourage healthy development, but to be used as a marketing tool. In its promotional material to encourage investment, Martek stated: 'Infant formula is currently a commodity market, with all products being almost identical and marketers competing intensely to differentiate their product. Even if [DHA/ARA] has no benefit, we think it would be widely incorporated into formulas, as a marketing tool and to allow companies to promote their formula as 'closest to human milk.'" (See: "Breastmilk Cannot Be Imitated – The DHA/ARA Fallout and Oligosaccharides".
These are only a few noteworthy examples from a long list of similar concerns.

It is worth noting here that the actual milk production in women with IGT can vary widely, with proportional variations in the levels of supplementation. I'm at the lower (but not lowest) end of the spectrum – able to produce only about 10% of my baby's daily needs. By contrast, some other women can produce most of their babies' needs, only needing to supplement with a bottle or two each day. Additionally, after the "hormone bath" of pregnancy and childbirth, milk production tends to increase with every subsequent pregnancy. Although I will likely never be able to exclusively breastfeed, that 10% might increase to 20% should I have another child in the future.

After I began sharing my diagnosis with others, a few people suggested that I consider getting donated human breastmilk from a human milk bank. I had actually learned about milk banks while I was pregnant, during my process of researching breastfeeding and  the benefits of breastmilk. I had – ironically, in retrospect – looked into the process of donating and considered donating breastmilk myself, at a time when I thought I would be able to breastfeed normally.

But, now that I was on the other side of the potential donor-recipient relationship, there were several reasons why milk banks were not an option for us. Purchasing milk from a nonprofit milk bank costs about $5 an ounce, which – using the same 9,125-ounce volume estimate as used for formula above (with the caveat that breastmilk and formula intakes are not identical) – would cost about $45,625 a year. Despite the nonprofit status, that price tag incorporates the costs of processing and screening milk for infections like HIV, hepatitis B, and syphilis. That cost is several times more money than I make over an entire year. As an additional barrier, milk banks have limited resources, and they prioritize the milk for preemie babies and babies with impaired immune or digestive systems. It is unlikely that I would be able to access the milk even if I had an unlimited checkbook.

According to a joint statement by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), "The best food for a baby who cannot be breastfed is milk expressed from the mother's breast or from another healthy mother. … Where it is not possible to breastfeed, the first alternative, if available, should be the use of human milk from other sources."     What I did not realize from my own pregnancy research was that "other sources" extended beyond the formal network of milk banks – although the WHO/UNICEF guidelines would not condone the alternatives. As I mulled over the seeming finality of my IGT diagnosis with one of the lactation consultants and prepared to leave for home in tears, she suggested that I consider something I had never dreamed of existing: peer-to-peer community milksharing.

I blinked. Milksharing?

The lactation consultant explained that it would be possible to connect with mothers in the community who produced more milk than they needed for their own babies, and who might be willing to donate their excess to a baby in need. She mentioned a network of pages on Facebook that facilitated such connections, but suggested I start by posting a message on the Facebook group for the local breastfeeding support group that I had visited while I was pregnant.

We were somewhat skeptical at first. How could we trust random, unknown people to be knowledgeable and honest about their habits and health? Wouldn't this be putting our baby at an unacceptable risk of illness, infection, and exposure to pharmaceuticals? Wouldn't formula – whose ingredients were transparent and consistent – be the more responsible decision?

We spent a few days contemplating this unexpected suggestion. Eventually we decided that posting a tentative call out to the community would at least enable us to consider our options. We could – if we didn't feel comfortable with an offer – say thanks, but no thanks. We weren't committing to anything by asking.

I posted the following message on 6/29: "Hello [group]! My boy Ellis was born at the Birth Center on 6/19. After a very challenging first week with Ellis losing over a pound of his birth weight, we made the difficult discovery that I don't have the anatomy to breastfeed. I am pumping throughout the day with yields of just a few mL at a time, which we are adding to his formula (which he currently takes at about 90 mL per feeding). [Our lactation consultant] suggested that I post here to see if anyone might be interested in donating some breastmilk to further supplement his diet in these early days. I live in the University City area of West Philadelphia. Please let me know if you might be interested – Thank you!"

To my surprise and delight, we were immediately greeted with no fewer than 7 offers of breastmilk. One came from a surrogate mother who had just given birth the day before to a baby who would be living far away and would not need her milk. Many of the mothers who responded to my post offered to deliver bags of frozen breastmilk directly to my house without asking for anything in return.

Suddenly I was crying again, but this time from gratitude in place of despair.

They also directed me to the Facebook pages for the global networks "Human Milk 4 Human Babies" (HM4HB) and "Eats on Feets" (EOF). Both organizations maintain pages for every US state and many countries around the world for the purpose of connecting milk donors with recipients. Volunteer staffers "retweet" – to those who follow the page – posts by individuals who have milk to share and families in search of donor milk. Both HM4HB and EOF also serve as resources for informed milksharing, advocating best practices that include honest communication about health and lifestyle, safe handling, and education of risks and benefits. The sale of breastmilk through these organizations is expressly forbidden. Recipients often express their gratitude in other ways, such as by replacing milk storage bags.

There is an irreducible element of trust inherent to community milksharing. Without the elaborate screening mechanisms available to milk banks, the possibility of infection through tainted milk is a real though unlikely concern. Since breastmilk in this context is exchanged without financial motive, there is no overt reason for donors to lie about their health.

The same cannot be said for the sale of breastmilk through Craigslist-like online marketplaces such as Breastmilk is legal to sell in most states because it is considered a food rather than a drug or body part by the FDA, but the FDA does recommend against buying unscreened milk on the open market. There are, however, some ethical issues to selling breastmilk. There can be an incentive to dishonesty about health issues when financial profit is involved, and there is concern about the potential for people to "cut" breastmilk with cow's milk in order to sell it for more, ounce by ounce. (See "The Ethics of Selling Pumped Breastmilk".)

In an effort to investigate milksharing's potential harms, the 2013 World Milksharing Week committee recently unveiled MIDAS, the Milksharing Incident Database & Survey. According to its website, MIDAS is a grassroots public health program consisting of an adverse incident reporting system (for incidents both medical and social) and a permanent survey of milksharing families and their advocates. This will likely serve as an invaluable resource on the safety of community milksharing in the years to come.

When our first donations of breastmilk came through, I fully expected to just have enough milk for Ellis's first few weeks of life. At the time of this writing, Ellis is 3 months old, and thanks to the selfless donations from 19 mothers (to date), we have never had to give him formula since we first looked into milksharing.

As meaningful as milksharing has been, I should mention some of the ways in which it is not ideal. Most milk donations are exchanged in plastic, specialized breastmilk storage bags that cannot be reused. There are a few ways to work around this environmental limitation, however. These plastic bags are recyclable in some, but not all, municipalities, offering a means to divert them from landfills. Further, in some cases, milksharing relationships can be established where donors and recipients maintain an ongoing exchange rather than a single-time donation. In such cases, it is possible to use reusable containers that can be sterilized, returned, and refilled in succession. Another limitation is the fossil fuels committed to transporting milk from donors. Recipients have been known to travel hundreds of miles to pick up larger donations, or else to ship boxes of frozen milk in trucks or on planes across the country and around the world.

There are also considerations relating to the composition of breastmilk, aspects of which I touched on previously. Milk evolves over time to match the changing needs of the baby for whom it is produced, but the age of the donor baby does not usually synch up perfectly with the age of the recipient baby. Additionally, breastmilk has been shown to fluctuate daily according to a circadian rhythm.

A 2009 study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience demonstrates that the quantity of sleep-inducing nucleotides in breastmilk peaks between the hours of 8 PM to 8 AM, suggesting a role in regulating infant sleep and wakefulness. The researchers extrapolate that for correct nutrition, expressed breastmilk should be given to babies at the same time of day that it was originally produced: "You wouldn't give anyone a coffee at night, and the same is true of milk – it has day-specific ingredients that stimulate activity in the infant, and other night-time components that help the baby to rest." (See "Breast Milk Should Be Drunk At The Same Time of Day That It Is Expressed".) But it is not especially common, in my experience, for donor milk to be labeled with the requisite information. That said, I should note that Ellis has been a fantastic sleeper from the start, and there are likely many additional factors involved in establishing sleeping patterns. All considered, breastmilk is still the gold standard when compared to the alternatives for infant nutrition.

It is through an understanding of this value that many donors gift their breastmilk to families in need. One mother explains of donating, "I felt like it was something that my daughter and I were doing together, and it will always be the very first community service project we ever participated in together." (See "Life-Saving Milk: Baby's First Volunteer Project". The business of feeding babies is a feel-good mission all around.

Further, the strength of the interpersonal connections that arise from milksharing can last a lifetime – long beyond when the babies are weaned. Peer-to-peer breastmilk donations are intimate occasions that can be as meaningful for donors as they are for recipients. Several exchanges from my own experience are illustrative. In one instance, I met in a church parking lot with the aunt of a donor mother who had just moved to Florida. That mother had needed donor milk for one of her older children, and it was a special privilege to now be able to donate milk in turn. In another instance, a mother had been creating a freezer stockpile of milk for months, only to discover that her defrosted milk had a soapy smell indicative of high lipase, an enzyme that helps break down milk fat. Although there are no health concerns with high-lipase milk, some babies don't like the taste and will refuse to drink it from a bottle. This mother was devastated at the thought that all the work of collecting that milk was for nothing, until she discovered that she could donate it to another baby in need. When I arrived at her house with a cooler and ice packs, I teared up as I explained to her how much it meant to be able to give Ellis breastmilk. To my surprise, the donor mother was equally emotional as she explained the background to her donation and expressed her happiness in being able to help my son to flourish.

Over the course of my acquaintance with milksharing, I have noted 5 distinct types of milk donations, all of which are equally precious. The first are from people who pump in case they need the milk (if they're going back to work, for example, or as a stockpile for a rainy day) but then end up not needing it. The second are from people who discover that their children have developed an allergy to something in their diet, so they can no longer use the milk themselves. The third are from people whose babies refused milk from the bottle (for reasons including a preference for the breast or distaste for frozen milk). The fourth are from people who are traveling on vacation and don't want to ship the milk back home. And the fifth, finally, are from people who pump for the express purpose of donating.

I will end this essay by recounting an exchange I had with a donor of the fifth variety, since it exemplifies in many ways the power of milksharing to connect and transform lives.

In response to a request that I had left on the "Human Milk 4 Human Babies – New Jersey" Facebook page, I was contacted through a private message by Cristin F. She explained that she was brand new to donating and would be building up a freezer stash over time. We agreed to keep in touch, and she told me that she would contact me once she had a good amount stored up.

I next heard from Cristin a few weeks later in unexpected circumstances. She explained that she had just donated milk for the first time to another mother, to whom she had promised milk before me. She wrote that the exchange didn't go as planned. The mother was an hour late; barely said thank you; didn't give replacement bags, even though she had promised them; and told her how glad she was not to be pumping anymore. After giving away 5 hours worth of time – pumping for her babies when she would not – Cristin left the experience feeling dejected and used. She wrote me: "I guess I'm trying to share the experience so that the negative I experienced can turn into a positive moving forward for other people, that as a new mommy meeting donors you can be sensitive to making sure the donors feel appreciated. (Not that you wouldn't, but I'm trying to turn this frown upside down for myself!)"

I was really affected by her letter. I felt terrible that her first experience donating had left her with such a bad feeling, especially since my own experiences had been so unambiguously positive. I responded:

"My own interactions with milk donors couldn't be farther away from that picture. I always offer bags and try to bring something in thanks, like a nice bar of chocolate. Every meeting I've had has been an incredible, heartwarming, life-affirming experience. Every single donor I've met has been so unbelievably kind and compassionate. I've cried a few times while explaining how grateful my family and I are for their kindness. It has completely uplifted my view of humanity to see all these strangers approach me with such warmth, giving the gift of life to my baby out of a sense of love and the desire to help, without asking for compensation in return. I can't stress how transformational an experience it has been for me, both in my general outlook and in coming to terms with my hypoplasia/IGT."

I told her about my story and how I had come to seek donor milk. And I explained that, at 7 weeks postpartum, I was still pumping throughout the day (every few hours, even in the middle of the night) for my 3-4 daily ounces – enough for one bottle. I felt that since our donor mothers were putting so much time and care into every ounce we received, I wanted to do as much as I could myself. I also described how I was keeping a list of every person who had given us milk. It was my intent, I explained, to send everyone a card or letter with a picture of Ellis when he's older, to thank them for helping him grow into the boy he is.

She responded: "You made me cry. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with me. I sat here this afternoon feeling blue and wondering if maybe the goodness I see out in the world – especially with something as intimate as milksharing – was a bit naïve of me. Maybe this mom was using me as a way to save money on formula. (Something I hadn't considered before.) And I felt bad for feeling bad – geesh, was I expecting a gold star or something? Your words made me realize that I had been seeking out exactly the experience(s) you have had  – that life affirming, beautiful, truly personal sharing experience. I didn't even realize that I was seeking it, or that it would mean so much to me. Also, thank you for validating my feelings – that you thought the situation was odd, too. It helps to put this in perspective – that it was a one time occurrence with one mom and it's not indicative of the milksharing culture as a whole. I look forward to pumping for you, helping you and Ellis in the small way that I can."

Cristin and I bonded through our mutual exchange, and I can tell that I have made a good friend for many years to come. Her negative experience paradoxically allowed for us to have that personal, sharing experience that we both sought. We have kept in touch since then, and will continue to so. She recently wrote of her son: "Steven has been watching me pump and store the milk. I have him carry it down to the basement with me and I tell him that it's mommy milk for Ellis, and that we are helping Ellis and his mommy."

In my few months in the milksharing world, I have witnessed incredible
acts of love and selflessness: communities rallying to collect donations
for a family whose mother died in childbirth; mothers of stillborn
babies pumping to donate in their children's memories; friends driving
friends many miles to pick up donations on weekends; mothers waking up
to pump at 4 AM
for a stranger's baby. Milksharing has been personally healing to the
point that it makes my struggle with breastfeeding completely worth it.
It is because of my IGT that I was exposed to this beautiful side of
humanity, which gives me hope in our collective ability to support one
another and grow into a more compassionate, conscious, and gentle

For my part, I continued trying to nurse Ellis from time to time after he started with his bottles. At 6 weeks old, he suddenly latched like a pro, as if he'd always been doing it. Now we nurse every day. Even though he doesn't get most of his nutrition from me, I'm grateful that we are still able to share that special relationship. I'm grateful that 19 mothers and counting have allowed my son to thrive on breastmilk. And for all its shortfalls, I will never forget the integral role that Facebook played in feeding my baby.

I hope that this essay gives back, in some small way, by spreading awareness of this beautiful cause.



Teaser image by Bliss baby charity, courtesy of Creative Commons license.

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How to Store Shrooms: Best Practices
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Shroom Chocolate Recipes: How to Make Magic Mushroom Chocolates
This recipe provides step by step directions on how you can make mushroom chocolates with the necessary ingredients. Read to learn more!

Why Do People Use Psilocybin? New Johns Hopkins Study
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicines has just published a new study on psychoactive effects of psilocybin. Read here to learn more.

How-To Lemon Tek: Ultimate Guide and Recipe
This master guide will teach you how to lemon tek, preventing the onset of negative effects after consuming psilocybin. Read to learn more!

How to Intensify a Mushroom Trip
Learn about techniques like Lemon tekking, or discover the right time to consume cannabis if you are looking to intensify a mushroom trip.

How to Grow Magic Mushrooms: Step-by-Step
This step-by-step guide will show you how to grow magic mushrooms at home. Read this guide before trying it on your own.

How to Dry Magic Mushrooms: Best Practices
Read to learn more about specifics for the best practices on how to dry magic mushrooms after harvesting season.

How to Buy Psilocybin Spores
Interested in psilocybin mushrooms? We’ll walk you through all you need to know to obtain mushroom spores. Nosh on this delish How To guide.

Hippie Flipping: When Shrooms and Molly Meet
What is it, what does it feel like, and how long does it last? Explore the mechanics of hippie flipping and how to safely experiment.

Having Sex on Shrooms: Good or Bad Idea?
Is having sex on shrooms a good idea or an accident waiting to happen? Find out in our guide to sex on magic mushrooms.

Gold Cap Shrooms Guide: Spores, Effects, Identification
Read this guide to learn more about the different characteristics of gold cap mushrooms, and how they differ from other psilocybin species.

Guide to Cooking with Magic Mushrooms
From cookies to smoothies and sandwiches, we cover various methods of cooking with magic mushrooms for the ultimate snack.

2020 Election: The Decriminalize Psilocybin Movement
Are you curious if mushrooms will follow in marijuana’s footsteps? Read to learn about how the U.S. is moving to decriminalize psilocybin.

Oregon’s Initiative to Legalize Mushrooms | Initiative Petition 34
Oregon continues to push ahead with their initiative to legalize Psilocybin in 2020. The measure received its official title and now needs signatures.

Canada Approves Psilocybin Treatment for Terminally-Ill Cancer Patients
Canada’s Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu approved the use of psilocybin to help ease anxiety and depression of four terminal cancer patients.

DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine)

Mapping the DMT Experience
With only firsthand experiences to share, how can we fully map the DMT experience? Let’s explore what we know about this powerful psychedelic.

Guide to Machine Elves and Other DMT Entities
This guide discusses machine elves, clockwork elves, and other common DMT entities that people experience during a DMT trip.

Is the DMT Experience a Hallucination? 
What if the DMT realm was the real world, and our everyday lives were merely a game we had chosen to play?

How to Store DMT
Not sure how to store DMT? Read this piece to learn the best practices and elements of advice to keep your stuff fresh.

What Does 5-MeO-DMT Show Us About Consciousness?
How does our brain differentiate between what’s real and what’s not? Read to learn what can 5-MeO-DMT show us about consciousness.

How to Smoke DMT: Processes Explained
There are many ways to smoke DMT and we’ve outlined some of the best processes to consider before embarking on your journey.

How to Ground After DMT
Knowing what to expect from a DMT comedown can help you integrate the experience to gain as much value as possible from your journey.

How To Get DMT
What kind of plants contain DMT? Are there other ways to access this psychedelic? Read on to learn more about how to get DMT.

How DMT is Made: Everything You Need to Know
Ever wonder how to make DMT? Read our guide to learn everything you need to know about the procedures of how DMT is made.

Having Sex on DMT: What You Need to Know
Have you ever wondered about sex on DMT? Learn how the God Molecule can influence your intimate experiences.

Does the Human Brain Make DMT? 
With scientific evidence showing us DMT in the brain, what can we conclude it is there for? Read on to learn more.

How to Use DMT Vape Pens
Read to learn all about DMT vape pens including: what to know when vaping, what to expect when purchasing a DMT cartridge, and vaping safely.

DMT Resources
This article is a comprehensive DMT resource providing extensive information from studies, books, documentaries, and more. Check it out!

Differentiating DMT and Near-Death Experiences
Some say there are similarities between a DMT trip and death. Read our guide on differentiating DMT and near-death experiences to find out.

DMT Research from 1956 to the Edge of Time
From a representative sample of a suitably psychedelic crowd, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t tell you all about Albert Hofmann’s enchanted bicycle ride after swallowing what turned out to be a massive dose of LSD. Far fewer, however, could tell you much about the world’s first DMT trip.

The Ultimate Guide to DMT Pricing
Check out our ultimate guide on DMT pricing to learn what to expect when purchasing DMT for your first time.

DMT Milking | Reality Sandwich
Indigenous cultures have used 5-MeO-DMT for centuries. With the surge in demand for psychedelic toad milk, is DMT Milking harming the frogs?

Why Does DMT Pervade Nature?
With the presence of DMT in nature everywhere – including human brains – why does it continue to baffle science?

DMT Substance Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
Our ultimate guide to DMT has everything you want to know about this powerful psychedelic referred to as “the spirit molecule”.

DMT for Depression: Paving the Way for New Medicine
We’ve been waiting for an effective depression treatment. Studies show DMT for depression works even for treatment resistant patients.

Beating Addiction with DMT
Psychedelics have been studied for their help overcoming addiction. Read how DMT is helping addicts beat their substance abuse issues.

DMT Extraction: Behind the Scientific Process
Take a look at DMT extraction and the scientific process involved. Learn all you need to know including procedures and safety.

Microdosing DMT & Common Dosages Explained
Microdosing, though imperceivable, is showing to have many health benefits–here is everything you want to know about microdosing DMT.

DMT Art: A Look Behind Visionary Creations
An entire genre of artwork is inspired by psychedelic trips with DMT. Read to learn about the entities and visions behind DMT art.

Changa vs. DMT: What You Need to Know
While similar (changa contains DMT), each drug has its own unique effect and feeling. Let’s compare and contrast changa vs DMT.

5-MeO-DMT Guide: Effects, Benefits, Safety, and Legality
5-Meo-DMT comes from the Sonora Desert toad. Here is everything you want to know about 5-Meo-DMT and how it compares to 4-AcO-DMT.

4-AcO-DMT Guide: Benefits, Effects, Safety, and Legality
This guide tells you everything about 4 AcO DMT & 5 MeO DMT, that belong to the tryptamine class, and are similar but slightly different to DMT.

LSD Guides (lysergic acid diethylamide)

How Much Does LSD Cost? When shopping around for that magical psychedelic substance, there can be many uncertainties when new to buying LSD. You may be wondering how much does LSD cost? In this article, we will discuss what to expect when purchasing LSD on the black market, what forms LSD is sold in, and the standard breakdown of buying LSD in quantity.   Navy Use of LSD on the Dark Web The dark web is increasingly popular for purchasing illegal substances. The US Navy has now noticed this trend with their staff. Read to learn more.   Having Sex on LSD: What You Need to Know Can you have sex on LSD? Read our guide to learn everything about sex on acid, from lowered inhibitions to LSD users quotes on sex while tripping.   A Drug That Switches off an LSD Trip A pharmaceutical company is developing an “off-switch” drug for an LSD trip, in the case that a bad trip can happen. Some would say there is no such thing.   Queen of Hearts: An Interview with Liz Elliot on Tim Leary and LSD The history of psychedelia, particularly the British experience, has been almost totally written by men. Of the women involved, especially those who were in the thick of it, little has been written either by or about them. A notable exception is Liz Elliot.   LSD Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety LSD, Lysergic acid diethylamide, or just acid is one of the most important psychedelics ever discovered. What did history teach us?   Microdosing LSD & Common Dosage Explained Microdosing, though imperceivable, is showing to have many health benefits–here is everything you want to know about microdosing LSD.   LSD Resources Curious to learn more about LSD? This guide includes comprehensive LSD resources containing books, studies and more.   LSD as a Spiritual Aid There is common consent that the evolution of mankind is paralleled by the increase and expansion of consciousness. From the described process of how consciousness originates and develops, it becomes evident that its growth depends on its faculty of perception. Therefore every means of improving this faculty should be used.   Legendary LSD Blotter Art: A Hidden Craftsmanship Have you ever heard of LSD blotter art? Explore the trippy world of LSD art and some of the top artists of LSD blotter art.   LSD and Exercise: Does it Work? LSD and exercise? Learn why high-performing athletes are taking hits of LSD to improve their overall potential.   Jan Bastiaans Treated Holocaust Survivors with LSD Dutch psychiatrist, Jan Bastiaans administered LSD-assisted therapy to survivors of the Holocaust. A true war hero and pioneer of psychedelic-therapy.   LSD and Spiritual Awakening I give thanks for LSD, which provided the opening that led me to India in 1971 and brought me to Neem Karoli Baba, known as Maharajji. Maharajji is described by the Indians as a “knower of hearts.”   How LSD is Made: Everything You Need to Know Ever wonder how to make LSD? Read our guide to learn everything you need to know about the procedures of how LSD is made.   How to Store LSD: Best Practices Learn the best way to store LSD, including the proper temperature and conditions to maximize how long LSD lasts when stored.   Bicycle Day: The Discovery of LSD Every year on April 19th, psychonauts join forces to celebrate Bicycle Day. Learn about the famous day when Albert Hoffman first discovered the effects of LSD.   Cary Grant: A Hollywood Legend On LSD Cary Grant was a famous actor during the 1930’s-60’s But did you know Grant experimented with LSD? Read our guide to learn more.   Albert Hofmann: LSD — My Problem Child Learn about Albert Hofmann and his discovery of LSD, along with the story of Bicycle Day and why it marks a historic milestone.   Babies are High: What Does LSD Do To Your Brain What do LSD and babies have in common? Researchers at the Imperial College in London discover that an adult’s brain on LSD looks like a baby’s brain.   1P LSD: Effects, Benefits, Safety Explained 1P LSD is an analogue of LSD and homologue of ALD-25. Here is everything you want to know about 1P LSD and how it compares to LSD.   Francis Crick, DNA & LSD Type ‘Francis Crick LSD’ into Google, and the result will be 30,000 links. Many sites claim that Crick (one of the two men responsible for discovering the structure of DNA), was either under the influence of LSD at the time of his revelation or used the drug to help with his thought processes during his research. Is this true?   What Happens If You Overdose on LSD? A recent article presented three individuals who overdosed on LSD. Though the experience was unpleasant, the outcomes were remarkably positive.

Ayahuasca Guides

The Ayahuasca Experience
Ayahuasca is both a medicine and a visionary aid. You can employ ayahuasca for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual repair, and you can engage with the power of ayahuasca for deeper insight and realization. If you consider attainment of knowledge in the broadest perspective, you can say that at all times, ayahuasca heals.


Trippy Talk: Meet Ayahuasca with Sitaramaya Sita and PlantTeachers
Sitaramaya Sita is a spiritual herbalist, pusangera, and plant wisdom practitioner formally trained in the Shipibo ayahuasca tradition.


The Therapeutic Value of Ayahuasca
My best description of the impact of ayahuasca is that it’s a rocket boost to psychospiritual growth and unfolding, my professional specialty during my thirty-five years of private practice.


Microdosing Ayahuasca: Common Dosage Explained
What is ayahuasca made of and what is considered a microdose? Explore insights with an experienced Peruvian brewmaster and learn more about this practice.


Ayahuasca Makes Neuron Babies in Your Brain
Researchers from Beckley/Sant Pau Research Program have shared the latest findings in their study on the effects of ayahuasca on neurogenesis.


The Fatimiya Sufi Order and Ayahuasca
In this interview, the founder of the Fatimiya Sufi Order,  N. Wahid Azal, discusses the history and uses of plant medicines in Islamic and pre-Islamic mystery schools.


Consideration Ayahuasca for Treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Research indicates that ayahuasca mimics mechanisms of currently accepted treatments for PTSD. In order to understand the implications of ayahuasca treatment, we need to understand how PTSD develops.


Brainwaves on Ayahuasca: A Waking Dream State
In a study researchers shared discoveries showing ingredients found in Ayahuasca impact the brainwaves causing a “waking dream” state.


Cannabis and Ayahuasca: Mixing Entheogenic Plants
Cannabis and Ayahuasca: most people believe they shouldn’t be mixed. Read this personal experience peppered with thoughts from a pro cannabis Peruvian Shaman.


Ayahuasca Retreat 101: Everything You Need to Know to Brave the Brew
Ayahuasca has been known to be a powerful medicinal substance for millennia. However, until recently, it was only found in the jungle. Word of its deeply healing and cleansing properties has begun to spread across the world as many modern, Western individuals are seeking spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well-being. More ayahuasca retreat centers are emerging in the Amazon and worldwide to meet the demand.


Ayahuasca Helps with Grief
A new study published in psychopharmacology found that ayahuasca helped those suffering from the loss of a loved one up to a year after treatment.


Ayahuasca Benefits: Clinical Improvements for Six Months
Ayahuasca benefits can last six months according to studies. Read here to learn about the clinical improvements from drinking the brew.


Ayahuasca Culture: Indigenous, Western, And The Future
Ayahuasca has been use for generations in the Amazon. With the rise of retreats and the brew leaving the rainforest how is ayahuasca culture changing?


Ayahuasca Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
The Amazonian brew, Ayahuasca has a long history and wide use. Read our guide to learn all about the tea from its beginnings up to modern-day interest.


Ayahuasca and the Godhead: An Interview with Wahid Azal of the Fatimiya Sufi Order
Wahid Azal, a Sufi mystic of The Fatimiya Sufi Order and an Islamic scholar, talks about entheogens, Sufism, mythology, and metaphysics.


Ayahuasca and the Feminine: Women’s Roles, Healing, Retreats, and More
Ayahuasca is lovingly called “grandmother” or “mother” by many. Just how feminine is the brew? Read to learn all about women and ayahuasca.

Ketamine Guides

What Is the Standard of Care for Ketamine Treatments?
Ketamine therapy is on the rise in light of its powerful results for treatment-resistant depression. But, what is the current standard of care for ketamine? Read to find out.

What Is Dissociation and How Does Ketamine Create It?
Dissociation can take on multiple forms. So, what is dissociation like and how does ketamine create it? Read to find out.

Having Sex on Ketamine: Getting Physical on a Dissociative
Curious about what it could feel like to have sex on a dissociate? Find out all the answers in our guide to sex on ketamine.

Special K: The Party Drug
Special K refers to Ketamine when used recreationally. Learn the trends as well as safety information around this substance.

Kitty Flipping: When Ketamine and Molly Meet
What is it, what does it feel like, and how long does it last? Read to explore the mechanics of kitty flipping.

Ketamine vs. Esketamine: 3 Important Differences Explained
Ketamine and esketamine are used to treat depression. But what’s the difference between them? Read to learn which one is right for you: ketamine vs. esketamine.

Guide to Ketamine Treatments: Understanding the New Approach
Ketamine is becoming more popular as more people are seeing its benefits. Is ketamine a fit? Read our guide for all you need to know about ketamine treatments.

Ketamine Treatment for Eating Disorders
Ketamine is becoming a promising treatment for various mental health conditions. Read to learn how individuals can use ketamine treatment for eating disorders.

Ketamine Resources, Studies, and Trusted Information
Curious to learn more about ketamine? This guide includes comprehensive ketamine resources containing books, studies and more.

Ketamine Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
Our ultimate guide to ketamine has everything you need to know about this “dissociative anesthetic” and how it is being studied for depression treatment.

Ketamine for Depression: A Mental Health Breakthrough
While antidepressants work for some, many others find no relief. Read to learn about the therapeutic uses of ketamine for depression.

Ketamine for Addiction: Treatments Offering Hope
New treatments are offering hope to individuals suffering from addiction diseases. Read to learn how ketamine for addiction is providing breakthrough results.

Microdosing Ketamine & Common Dosages Explained
Microdosing, though imperceivable, is showing to have many health benefits–here is everything you want to know about microdosing ketamine.

How to Ease a Ketamine Comedown
Knowing what to expect when you come down from ketamine can help integrate the experience to gain as much value as possible.

How to Store Ketamine: Best Practices
Learn the best ways how to store ketamine, including the proper temperature and conditions to maximize how long ketamine lasts when stored.

How To Buy Ketamine: Is There Legal Ketamine Online?
Learn exactly where it’s legal to buy ketamine, and if it’s possible to purchase legal ketamine on the internet.

How Long Does Ketamine Stay in Your System?
How long does ketamine stay in your system? Are there lasting effects on your body? Read to discover the answers!

How Ketamine is Made: Everything You Need to Know
Ever wonder how to make Ketamine? Read our guide to learn everything you need to know about the procedures of how Ketamine is made.

Colorado on Ketamine: First Responders Waiver Programs
Fallout continues after Elijah McClain. Despite opposing recommendations from some city council, Colorado State Health panel recommends the continued use of ketamine by medics for those demonstrating “excited delirium” or “extreme agitation”.

Types of Ketamine: Learn the Differences & Uses for Each
Learn about the different types of ketamine and what they are used for—and what type might be right for you. Read now to find out!

MDMA / Ecstasy Guides

Kitty Flipping: When Ketamine and Molly Meet
What is it, what does it feel like, and how long does it last? Read to explore the mechanics of kitty flipping.

MDMA & Ecstasy Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
Our ultimate guide to MDMA has everything you want to know about Ecstasy from how it was developed in 1912 to why it’s being studied today.

How To Get the Most out of Taking MDMA as a Couple
Taking MDMA as a couple can lead to exciting experiences. Read here to learn how to get the most of of this love drug in your relationship.

Common MDMA Dosage & Microdosing Explained
Microdosing, though imperceivable, is showing to have many health benefits–here is everything you want to know about microdosing MDMA.

Having Sex on MDMA: What You Need to Know
MDMA is known as the love drug… Read our guide to learn all about sex on MDMA and why it is beginning to makes its way into couple’s therapy.

How MDMA is Made: Common Procedures Explained
Ever wonder how to make MDMA? Read our guide to learn everything you need to know about the procedures of how MDMA is made.

Hippie Flipping: When Shrooms and Molly Meet
What is it, what does it feel like, and how long does it last? Explore the mechanics of hippie flipping and how to safely experiment.

Cocaine Guides

How Cocaine is Made: Common Procedures Explained
Ever wonder how to make cocaine? Read our guide to learn everything you need to know about the procedures of how cocaine is made.

A Christmas Sweater with Santa and Cocaine
This week, Walmart came under fire for a “Let it Snow” Christmas sweater depicting Santa with lines of cocaine. Columbia is not merry about it.

Ultimate Cocaine Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
This guide covers what you need to know about Cocaine, including common effects and uses, legality, safety precautions and top trends today.

NEWS: An FDA-Approved Cocaine Nasal Spray
The FDA approved a cocaine nasal spray called Numbrino, which has raised suspicions that the pharmaceutical company, Lannett Company Inc., paid off the FDA..

Cannabis Guides

The Ultimate Guide to Cannabis Bioavailability
What is bioavailability and how can it affect the overall efficacy of a psychedelic substance? Read to learn more.

Cannabis Research Explains Sociability Behaviors
New research by Dr. Giovanni Marsicano shows social behavioral changes occur as a result of less energy available to the neurons. Read here to learn more.

The Cannabis Shaman
If recreational and medical use of marijuana is becoming accepted, can the spiritual use as well? Experiential journalist Rak Razam interviews Hamilton Souther, founder of the 420 Cannabis Shamanism movement…

Cannabis Guide: Effects, Common Uses, Safety
Our ultimate guide to Cannabis has everything you want to know about this popular substances that has psychedelic properties.

Cannabis and Ayahuasca: Mixing Entheogenic Plants
Cannabis and Ayahuasca: most people believe they shouldn’t be mixed. Read this personal experience peppered with thoughts from a procannabis Peruvian Shaman.

CBD-Rich Cannabis Versus Single-Molecule CBD
A ground-breaking study has documented the superior therapeutic properties of whole plant Cannabis extract as compared to synthetic cannabidiol (CBD), challenging the medical-industrial complex’s notion that “crude” botanical preparations are less effective than single-molecule compounds.

Cannabis Has Always Been a Medicine
Modern science has already confirmed the efficacy of cannabis for most uses described in the ancient medical texts, but prohibitionists still claim that medical cannabis is “just a ruse.”

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