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Knoxville mom who can't breastfeed receives outpouring of support from mothers willing to donate their milk

Ellie Dougherty underwent a bilateral mastectomy after getting breast cancer in 2016. She is unable to breastfeed and is struggling to find formula.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — When Amber Clifton found out her pregnant neighbor Ellie Dougherty is a breast cancer survivor who is unable to breastfeed and is struggling to find baby formula, Clifton knew she had to help.

"I'm willing to give her just as much milk as she wants or needs," Clifton said.

Dougherty, who underwent a bilateral mastectomy after getting breast cancer in 2016, recently shared her story with WBIR

After doing so, she received an outpouring of support from other mothers offering to give her their breast milk. Clifton is one of the many moms willing to help. 

"It was just kind of without thought, just a natural reaction," the mother of four said. "I have so much milk, there's no reason for me to keep all that milk that I'm not using."

Barbara Murray, a lactation consultant at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, said sharing breast milk is not a new concept. 

However, it can come with risks.

"What does worry me are moms who maybe are reaching out just randomly to strangers on the internet," she explained.

Murray recommends knowing the milk donor in person.

"I'm very comfortable encouraging milk sharing between close friends or relatives," she said.

Murray also suggests asking questions about the person's health history.

"Their health history, social history," she said. "How was the milk obtained? Do they have good clean practices? Are they cleaning their pump parts, sterilizing their pump parts?" 

These are discussions Dougherty and Clifton have had. Clifton said she's overjoyed her neighbor has accepted her help.

"Hopefully this formula shortage will end quickly we can go back to normal, but I am happy to give her milk just as long as she wants it," she said.

In a statement to WBIR, Dougherty said, "My hope in sharing my story as a breast cancer survivor and expectant mother was simply to increase awareness of the terrifying situation the formula shortage is putting women in who are unable to breastfeed. Never could I have imagined the result would be the outpouring of support I received!"

Dougherty and her husband are expecting to meet their baby girl on Father's Day.

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