by Mary Jessica Hammes
December 01, 2008
“As long as you have a crib, a car seat, and a milk saver, you’ll be okay.”
That’s what the experienced-looking breastfeeding mother sagely tells her pregnant friend in the DVD that comes in a box of Milkies, a “milk saver” that collects leaky breast milk. Of course, that breastfeeding mom isn’t just any mom. Viewers learn later that she just happens to be Helen Anderson, a registered nurse and a founder of Milkies.
“You have got to get a milk saver,” she says of her product, which one uses while breastfeeding—it fits into your bra on the side not in use and collects milk that drips while your baby breastfeeds. (It is always referred to as a “milk saver” in the video rather than the brand name, which, admittedly, might make one feel a little silly while saying out loud.) “It’s going to help you save the most important thing you can give your baby: breast milk,” Anderson continues.
Her friend agrees. “I’m going to need that stored milk when I go back to work,” she says. “I want her to get every nutritious drop… I sure hope I get a milk saver at my baby shower.”
I admit that I watched the video rather skeptically. For one thing, I had learned that milk that leaks while breastfeeding doesn’t have the same nutritional value as the high-fat hindmilk that comes at the end of a breastfeeding (or pumping) session. In fact, too much foremilk—the thinner milk that is released in the beginning of a breastfeeding session—can result in a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, which can cause some digestion issues in your child.
Beyond that, I’m always hesitant to embrace products that make breastfeeding look like a complicated affair requiring a lot of accessories (though I do regard pumps as true tools that allow one to work outside the home and still be able to produce milk; I used one for months). And priced at $25.95 plus $6.95 shipping and handling, Milkies might be out of reach financially for some mothers (while a six-pack of reusable cotton nursing pads usually runs around $5).
Yet the milk savers have several selling points. According to the video they’re easy to use and clean (just rinse with warm water and air dry), slim (and therefore discreet), portable, and BPA- and phthalate-free. Anderson’s reasons for creating the product are laudable: she wanted to reduce use of disposable products, help moms stockpile breast milk and keep moms dry and comfortable. I can get behind all of those reasons completely, though I wonder just how much milk savers reduce trips to the store, the use of disposable nursing pads, and electricity and water bills, as the video claims. (Washing nursing pads is not like washing, say, sheets.)
But, I remember those early days of breastfeeding, when I leaked like a spigot and would forlornly look down at all that precious food dribbling into a nursing pad (or towel, those first few weeks— glamorous!). I would probably have welcomed a product like Milkies then for purely emotional reasons.
And in one testimonial on the video, a woman says that “Thanks to the milk saver, I now have fresh milk for his cereal.” Well, that does make sense to me—I used to thaw pumped breast milk to mix with Tommy’s first cereals, and invariably most of the milk would be wasted.
I wanted to try the product for myself—but while my 2-year-old son still breastfeeds, I’m way past the leaky stage. So I gave four breastfeeding moms who live near me in Athens, Georgia, free samples of Milkies to try out. This is what they thought.
Robyn, who is nursing a 2-month-old girl
“I thought it’d be complicated, but it’s really easy,” says Robyn, who uses the milk saver mostly in the morning. However, mastering tilted angles is essential to breastfeeding while lying down, and be cautious of tipping over: one time, Robyn accidentally spilled the 2 or 3 ounces she had collected just by bending over. Robyn works from home and pumps for emergencies. “It’s perfect for just saving extra milk in the freezer,” she says. Robyn is a fan: “I think it’s great.”
Sandy, who is nursing a 9-month-old
Sandy shares my reluctance to embrace gadgets, but finds the milk saver useful. “I’m not a big fan of extra things, but I can definitely see this being helpful with needing an occasional bottle,” she says.
The milk saver is comfortable, she says—“It’s big but not wide”—and the hole through which the milk flows is large and located high on the container. Yet, Sandy says she doesn’t envision using it in public often—not because of any issues of being discreet (“I’ll breastfeed anywhere and not worry about it if that is what my child needs,” she says), but because it’s one more accessory to remember to pack in the diaper bag.
“I don’t think this is something that every mom needs,” she says, “just those who don’t have access to a pump, or those who don’t express milk by hand.”
Angell, who is nursing a 5-month old and a 2-year-old
Angell says that the milk saver is quite comfortable when in place—“After a few seconds, it was hard to tell it was there,” she says. It’s also easy to use (no assembly required) and easy to clean. She also likes the storage case, and the fact that you can use it while breastfeeding in any position.
Yet, she adds, there isn’t a lid on the milk saver, “So you need to be careful not to tip it after nursing,” she says. Also, she hasn’t been able to find a way to set the container upright in order to free both hands after breastfeeding.
“It is too big to just slip in your shirt and walk around with it,” she adds. “The video claims it is discreet—yeah, compared to a nursing baby it is.”
Still, “I think it is a great product,” she says. “I was very skeptical at first but now I am a believer. I have a pump but I hate using it…I prefer the passive way of collecting small amounts of milk.”
However, Angell calls Milkies a “nice luxury” rather than a necessity. “I really don’t think it saves money like the DVD claims,” she says. “I still need to wear breast pads.”
Kym, who is nursing an 11-week-old
Kym stays at home with her two young children, so having expressed milk on hand is not a huge necessity, she says.
“I’m with her all the time,” she says of her 11-week-old daughter. “I don’t even own a pump.”
Since the milk saver doesn’t collect nutrient-rich hindmilk, “it would only make sense to have (the collected milk) as a snack,” says Kym. But she finds the milk saver useful for another reason: it eliminates the mess if you happen to be a heavy leaker.
“Leaking so much drives me crazy,” says Kym. Even when she uses a towel to catch the milk, it still ends up on her shirt or on her daughter’s head.
“I did not have any of these problems with the Milkies,” she says.
Kym says she’d recommend the product to other heavy leakers. “I really liked it,” she says. “It is a much easier and more efficient way to catch my extra milk.”
So, should you buy Milkies? Well, sure, if you can afford it. The company does an admirable job of promoting breastfeeding and is dedicated to breastfeeding advocacy as well as environmental sustainability.
Just remember that the milk you leak is best used for snacks rather than meals.
Mary Jessica Hammes is an Athens, Georgia-based writer, trapeze instructor, knitter, gardener, comic book enthusiast, and hula hooper. She is mom to Tommy.
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