Giving Thanks: Jenna Elfman Donates Breastmilk to Save Sick Baby, Beats Breastfeeding Booby Traps™

Actress Jenna Elfman shares her challenging breastfeeding experience, how she overcame obstacles, and how her pumped breastmilk helped save the life of a baby that was born drug-addicted.   Jenna Elfman won a Golden Globe for her role in the hit TV series Dharma & Greg, starred in the movie Keeping the Faith and just wrapped filming Friends with Benefits, set to hit movie theaters July 2011.  Jenna is married to Bodhi Elfman. They have two children, Story and Easton.  We’re naming Jenna a Best for Babes Champion for Moms and she also works closely with the non-profit Healthy Child Healthy World.  Don’t forget to read our breastfeeding resources at the end of the interview! 

BfB:  Jenna, thank you so much for talking to us about your breastfeeding experience!

Jenna:  I love what you guys are doing, I think it’s awesome!  If I had only known when I had my first . . . I definitely experienced a lot of challenges.  As a result, I’m on a mission with every pregnant woman I see!  I’ll ask, “So are you planning to breastfeed?   Have you prepared?”  If anyone had told me what to expect[1], or had given me some pointers, I would have been able to have a very different experience.

BfB:  Is it fair to say you were “Booby Trapped” by the barriers to breastfeeding?

Jenna:  Yes!  I had zero education about breastfeeding before giving birth to my first son, I didn’t know there was anything  TO learn about breastfeeding!  I thought you put the baby on the breast and they sucked and that was it.  There was maybe one sentence on it in my birth class. So . . . when I finally put him on the breast; I didn’t know about latch, I didn’t know about anything!   I was not prepared, and didn’t know that you’re very tired, that you have to feed your baby often so you’re awake a lot, that you’re focusing all your attention on this brand new prize, and that your hormones go through a whole shift.   You potentially have no education about how to breastfeed, yet you still have the duty of feeding your child, and keeping  the child alive.  My milk came in the day I came home from the hospital, and I still didn’t know how to latch. My baby wasn’t getting enough milk, and the hospital told me that I needed to feed him every 3 to 4 hours, but that’s based on what a formula-fed baby needs[2]!    Story was hungry and losing more weight than he should, so I had to switch to formula for a couple of days.  The nurses kept telling me to latch the baby “up and over”,  and I couldn’t understand what they meant.  I ended up having him latched with his bottom jaw on the nipple . . . later I found out the bottom jaw is the “working jaw” and my latch was all wrong.  My nipples were really injured from not having a proper latch[3], it hurt really bad.  I had a kid that was losing weight, and it was WAY stressful, and I was so engorged, making it even harder to latch him on.

BfB:  Because you were creating more demand by putting your baby on all the time, but because of his bad latch, he wasn’t getting it.

Jenna:  Exactly.  It was definitely not boring.  So I ended up just pumping so I could heal, and he was drinking pumped milk out of bottles.  By the time I healed enough to put him back on, he was like “I’m over this” and stayed on bottles[4].   So he got exclusively breast milk out of bottles, and I ended up pumping for ten and a half months.

BfB:  Wow, so you were an “EPer”!  That’s short for “exclusively pumping” –there is a whole support group for women who end up exclusively pumping[5], and most of them were booby-trapped like you were.

Jenna:  I pumped in the backs of cars, on the way to the set, on the freeway, shopping and then going to back to the car.  I was walking around New York City, and I went to FAO Schwarz and said “Hey, I know you’re closing, but I need to feed my baby, can I pump in the bathroom?  Of course they said yes, when you say “I need to feed my child” sometimes that opens doors.

But here’s an amazing thing that came out of all that pumping.  Of course you know, as your baby feeds, your body calibrates because it’s supply and demand.  Because I was pumping, and always pumping to drain the breast, I was making ridiculous amounts of milk.  I was freezing, freezing, freezing, freezing, freezing, freezing tons of milk more than he was using.  I had no more room in my freezer, every time I opened the door, it was falling out.  I had a friend, who had a family member who gave birth to a methamphetamine-addicted baby.   They didn’t know the sister was on these  drugs, and the baby was born detoxing from methamphetamine, which is one of the most horrific ways to start this lifetime, detoxing from drugs you had nothing to do with.  This poor baby couldn’t keep anything down, no formula was working.   My friend was over at my house and we were in the kitchen, and my husband opens the freezer and says, “Hey . . . what about THAT?”   And I said, “Oh my God, you can have it all,” because I wasn’t using it.  So my friend and his wife took the baby in because the mother took off, it was a bad situation, and once a week my friend would come over and get a supply of breastmilk[6].   The second the baby started on breastmilk, he could hold it down, he could take it, all of his rash symptoms on his body started going away.  I literally kept him alive for several months on my breastmilk.  He was thriving, he was gaining weight, and going through the withdrawal symptoms much better . . . my friends ended up officially adopting him, and I saw him at a birthday party the other day, he is now 3 and doing great.

BfB:   How amazing is that!  It’s like donating an organ.

Jenna:  It was so rewarding.   To this day when I see him, in my heart I feel connected to him, like he’s my little angel friend.

I had so wanted to breastfeed, and it was such a loss for me that I didn’t pull it off.    I wanted to be one of those mothers who are hanging out, talking with their girlfriends, lifting up their shirt, feeding their kid . . . I wanted to be that person, who could just whip out their boob and feed their kid!  That just did not happen.   I probably could have gotten Story back on the breast, if I had had baby-led breastfeeding information, which I did not have until this time around.

BfB: You said you saw lactation consultants, and none of them could help you get the baby back on the breast?

Jenna:  I was out of town filming, so I didn’t have a lactation consultant nearby, and truthfully I didn’t even know to ask a lactation consultant about getting Story back on the breast, I just assumed it wasn’t going to work out.   I was bummed because all my peers were breastfeeding and I was excusing myself to go pump.   So I was determined with my second, with Easton, to do it differently.

BfB:  What did you do differently with breastfeeding your second child, Easton, now 8 months?

Jenna Elfman’s  Top 3 Breastfeeding Preparation Tips:   1.  Take a GOOD breastfeeding class   2.  Read Breastfeeding Made Simple    3. Watch “The Breast Crawl

Jenna:  With Easton, I got educated.  The one book that saved my life was “Breastfeeding Made Simple” — the most phenomenal breastfeeding book ever.    I had major epiphanies of what had gone wrong with Story and how all of it could have been prevented and I could have successfully breastfed him for as long as I wanted.  With Easton, from the first moment I put him on the breast I made sure he had a good latch!  I was not going to let his first orientation to my breast be with an incorrect latch and become a bad habit.   So every time l made sure that he latched properly.   Another amazing thing for the sore nipples, which a nurse in the hospital told me, is to excrete a little breastmilk and spread it around on the nipple, and then put the nipple cream on after each feeding.   I did that every time, and I had sore nipples for maybe three days.   Between getting the proper latch every time ( and never compromising on it), and taking proper care with the cream, it was fantastic.   I was so glad I finally got to breastfeed!

We thought this was a beautiful story–perfect to celebrate Thanksgiving–and kudos to Jenna for Beating the Breastfeeding Booby Traps™!  Did you experience Booby Traps like hers?  

Stay tuned for Part II of our Interview with Actress Jenna Elfman, coming soon!


[1] For information on how to prepare for breastfeeding, see Jenna’s Top 3 Breastfeeding Tips box and our Help for Expecting Moms section.

[2] Best for Babes believes that mothers should not be discharged from the hospital until they have mastered the ability to establish a successful latch with confidence and  without assistance.   As for scheduling, breastfed babies and their mothers do best when feeding “on cue” not by the clock.  When baby shows early signs of hunger (crying is a late indication) they will latch best, milk supply will normalize, and moms & babies do better!  For more information, see Get Your Best Game On, Girlfriend

[3] Excellent information on preventing nipple pain, getting a good latch, and treating problems: Dr. Jack Newman’s website has a wealth of information, including detailed information on nipple management.  See .  Also see Motherlove.com .

[4] With the proper help, it is often, though not always, possible to transition babies back to the breast.  An excellent International Board Certified Lactation Consultant or recommended lactation specialist can help you, to find one in your zip code area, see www.ilca.org, or ask a La Leche League Leader, Childbirth Educator, or doula for a recommendation.

[5] For more information on pumping and expressing breastmilk, see Kellymom.com’s extensive pumping guide and Ameda.com’s excellent pumping tips, http://www.ameda.com/breast-pumping/breast-pumping-tips.  Support groups for exclusively pumping moms include www.exclusivelypumping.com  and Facebook group: Exclusively Pumping & Expressing.  Let us know if you have others!

[6] Human milk is the next best substitute to breastfeeding or the mother’s own milk, and is far superior to infant formula.  Donated breast milk is as safe as donated human blood when screened and pasteurized through a Human Milk Banking Association of North America milk bank.  Anyone who is considering informal human milk sharing through friends, family members, or groups like www.milkshare.com and www.eatsonfeets.com is encouraged make an informed decision and educate themselves about potential risks.   See this recent Time.com article for more on Eats on Feets.



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