MANCHESTER -- Breast milk is becoming a hot commodity as more families become aware of its health benefits.
At the same time, human milk banks continue to pop up across the country. However, it can be expensive to buy human milk from milk banks, so an increasing number of mothers are turning to the internet to get it for free.
Jenna Trinks and Stephanie Colon are not your typical “mom friends.” The two women met on Facebook.
“She told me about the Facebook group,” Colon said.
While that’s not unusual for millennials like these two, what makes their friendship unique is what – or who -- they now have in common. Trinks 14-month-old son, Gavin Trinks.
“He has supraventricular tachycardia so his heart rate,” Trinks said. “It’ll basically shoot up from an electrical impulse.”
The 27-year-old Manchester mom said the condition can be life-threatening.
“It tires him out, he gets very lethargic, his heart can basically, you know, fail from it,” Trinks said.
That’s why Gavin needs the best nutrients to grow healthy and strong, which Trinks and her husband, Michael Webber, believe are found in breast milk.
Doctors agree. The problem is, Trinks can’t produce breast milk.
So six months ago, Trinks reached out to Colon through the Facebook group, Human Milk for Human Babies Connecticut, to ask Colon to donate her own breast milk to Gavin.
“So when I looked it up I just wrote a post saying that I had milk,” Colon said.
The page is part of a national online human milk-sharing community. Trinks and Colon belong to a growing number of mothers turning to the internet for breast milk as experts say awareness increases.
“Breast milk in general as we all know is probably the best food for your baby,” said Jan Ferraro, Accelleron Medical Products Director Of Education. “It has all the antibodies that your baby needs to start fighting off infections.”
Colon lives in Vernon with her husband and four children, ages 10-months to 11-years-old. She produces more milk than she needs for her baby, Noah.
Since she joined Human Milk for Human Babies Facebook group, she’s donated over 1,400 ounces of breast milk to help moms in need, mostly to Trinks.
“Knowing that she really needed it for her son,” Colon said. “So I just stuck with her. I just, every time I pumped I thought 'ok I need to do it for Gavin'.”
“His heart has gotten a lot better,” Trinks said. “He’s right on the growth curve that he should be. He’s gaining weight. He’s happy. All of his tests are good.”
Many families are also turning to these sites because insurance companies won’t often pay for donated breast milk. Human milk shared for human babies is free, saving moms like Trinks, a lot of money.
“Easily in the thousands so far,” Trinks said.
She’s convinced that without Colon’s breast milk, Gavin may not be so healthy.
"Just thinking about what I would have done if I didn’t have the donor milk or if I did have to pay for it,” Trinks said. “And I’m just really thankful.”
But online milk-sharing communities have their drawbacks.
There’s always the risk of making a baby sick with tainted milk. Donors who donate human milk through sites like the Facebook group don’t go though a health screening process like donors who give their breast milk to milk banks, such as Mothers Milk Bank Northeast.
“Mom’s become a registered donor,” Ferraro said. “There’s blood work that has to be done.”
In her role at Accelleron, Ferraro helps new moms use breast pumps.
Her office also serves as Connecticut’s first human milk depot, which is run by Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast, a nonprofit providing pasteurized donor human milk to premature and NICU infants.
“Because those are our most fragile patients,” Ferraro said. “Those little guys or little gals, they really, really need that tested milk to make sure that it’s something that’s going to be good for them.”
Trinks initially worried about tainted breast milk shared online because it is neither pasteurized or screened.
“In the beginning I did just because I get nervous that they’re not telling me the truth about what was in the milk,” said Trinks.
Trinks said she asks all donor moms about their health history. And for Trinks, the benefits outweigh the risks.
“The cardiologist said he might eventually grow out of his heart condition so I do kind of accredit it to the breast milk,” she said.