Strangers Give Their Breast Milk to Baby After Mom's Sudden Death

brixton marquez

It's an unthinkable tragedy when any mom dies, but what happens to her baby if she's still breastfeeding? In the case of Liz Marquez, 32, who died after a sudden heart attack in December, moms across Southern California have joined together and are donating breast milk. They're hoping their effort, called Milk for Brixton, will ensure the youngest of Liz's five kids, 5-month-old Brixton, can continue nursing until his first birthday.

On December 7, 2014, a sudden heart attack left Liz in a coma. Although her family has asked for privacy regarding the exact details of her condition, friend Kristina Pulistar, 29, Liz's friend and the founder of the Milk for Brixton project, says that after nine days, tests revealed a lack of brain activity. Her devastated family decided to remove her life support.

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"Her husband, Brian, was a wreck," Kristina recalls. When Kristina heard the news that her friend was gone, she worried about Liz's older kids, ages 11, 6, 3, and 1, but especially Brixton, who had only recently come home from the hospital.

"He was born prematurely at 32 weeks, and Liz had been breastfeeding to get his strength up," says Kristina. "Liz's goal was to breastfeed him for a year, and I know how important that was to her."

With the blessing of Brian and Liz's sister, Stacey, Kristina reached out to local babywearing and breastfeeding groups on Facebook and asked if any moms would be willing to donate their breast milk to Brixton.

liz marquez

The response was so enthusiastic that soon after, Kristina started the Milk for Brixton page on Facebook. "The amount of people who want to help has been overwhelming," she says.

So far, 30 moms have donated more than 3,000 ounces of breast milk for Brixton. Some live nearby. "Others are driving from hours away to help out," Kristina says.

Their goal: to keep Brixton nursing through the next seven months -- to Liz's goal of Brixton's first birthday. Right now, Milk for Brixton is taking in-person breast milk donations at various drop-off locations within an hour of the family's home in Diamond Bar, California (They're not accepting shipped donations due to safety reasons.) A GoFundMe page has also been set up to purchase a deep freezer to store the breast milk.

More From The Stir: 7 Ways to Keep Baby Safe When Using Donor Breast Milk

Breast milk sharing from mom to mom is unregulated in the United States, but sharing resources like Eats on Feets suggest babies do best when donated breast milk comes from mothers nursing a child around the same age. Milk bank donations are more stringent. For instance, donors undergo blood testing to rule out conditions such as HIV. Donors for Brixton cannot smoke, drink, or take recreational or prescription drugs. Breast milk must have been placed directly into a deep freezer and be no more than 5 months old to qualify for the project.

Because Liz's husband has needed to return to work, their kids are splitting time between various relatives' homes. Donations to provide each with toys, clothing, diapers and wipes are being accepted through a separate GoFundMe page.

Adjusting to the loss of their mother has been tough, Kristina says. "The 3-year-old wakes up in the middle of the night, calling for his mom," she says. "I cry every time I leave their house. I can't imagine what they're going through."

Kristina says her friend was always generous and thinking of others, whether donating baby carriers to other moms or donating her heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys after death. Her loss is a blow to the local babywearing community, but seeing the outpouring of sympathy, says Kristina, "makes me feel there's still good in the world."

For more information about donating breast milk or supplies, email Kristina at milkforbrixton@gmail.com. Or consider donating your breast milk to another baby whose mom can't nurse. For a premature baby or baby hospitalized in the neonatal intensive unit, shared breast milk is the next best option to their own mom's milk. Go to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America to learn more.

Have you ever donated breast milk? How did it work?


Images courtesy of Stacey Villanueva

 

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