The liquid gold that is breast milk has made headlines for its ability to fuel body builders’ muscle gains and help new moms’ with weight loss—you know, in addition to feeding babies. Now, it’s getting credit for helping one woman survive while stranded in a forest for more than 24 hours. Here’s how one New Zealand mom survives in the wilderness after drinking her own breast milk.
1. Running a race
29-year-old Susan O’Brien lost her way while running a race in Rumutaka Forest Park and was never able to cross the finish line. The race started at 9am and runners on the 20 kilometer trail were expected to finish about two and a half hours later, but O’Brien couldn’t find the trail and wandered further from the race area.
2. On her own
“I got lost and got stuck in some bushes and then I thought that was it,” O’Brien told reporters. “I wanted to carry on but I got too exhausted so I just dug a hole. I didn’t have a life blanket, I thought I was going to die,” O’Brien said.
3. Survival tactic
Her survival skills kicked in and she made a hole in a bank and covered herself in dirt to fight the cold. She had 64 ounces of water and an energy bar, but as her long day dragged on she expressed her breast milk, knowing it had many nutrients.
4. Still nursing her baby
“I’m breastfeeding my baby so I had a bit of my milk. I thought that should help me keep going, for energy,” she said. O’Brien has a two-year-old son and is still breastfeeding her 8-month-old daughter. Thoughts of her family and prayer gave her strength. “Nothing else mattered but my family,” O’Brien said.
5. A harrowing night
She spent the night trying to stay warm and yelling out for help.”I just kept chucking dirt on myself and every time I heard something I kept screaming ‘help’,” she remembered.
6. Rescue mission
Authorities launched a search and rescue operation Sunday when O’Brien didn’t finish the race. More than 20 police and search and rescue volunteers with dogs carried out a search of tracks and area around the Rimutaka Forest Park and the Orongorongo track, and camped in the forest overnight. Monday morning they combed the area with heat detection equipment in an attempt to locate her.
7. Waiting to be found
The exhausted woman had enough energy to wave down a helicopter dispatched to look for her, one of her rescuers said. “On our way back down we basically saw her standing by the river waving her arms,” said crewman Colin Larsen.
8. Cold but safe
O’Brien was found about a mile and a half from the original race course. She was cold and tired and wet from morning rain, but relieved to be safe. A paramedic said that despite her ordeal, she was in good health, and did not seem to have any physical side effects.
9. Happy reunion
O’Brien’s parents and husband rejoiced as they were reunited with her. The first thing she did was feed her daughter. When asked if she would continue running, O’Brien said she would.
10. Can you drink breast milk?
But back to the whole drinking-her-breast-milk-to-survive thing—is that actually okay to do? “It’s absolutely safe,” says ob-gyn Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “Since it’s coming from your own body,” she says, “the bacteria that’s in the fluid is completely okay for you to consume.”
11. A smart decision
“Drinking the magic mommy nectar can actually be helpful if you’re in a dire situation like Susan,” says Minkin. “Though sipping fluids from your body isn’t going to help you stay hydrated for very long, breast milk contains calories to help keep your energy levels up,” she says. “This makes it a good short-term fix, but in the long run she would get dehydrated, and her body would stop producing breast milk,” says Minkin. “She’s very creative—I’m glad she thought of this.”