Informal Milk Sharing
New mothers are told breastfeeding is the best option for their baby, but sometimes they are unable to provide enough milk themselves. Some mothers look for alternative ways besides formula to feed their little ones. Informal Milk Sharing is sharing of breastmilk between two women, who may or may not be friends/family. A mother may have had trouble with getting baby to latch due to a cleft palate. She may not have had the right support or education. Breast reduction surgery, and illness can prevent a woman from providing enough milk to sustain her own baby. There are many factors on why a woman cannot successfully breastfeed. To those women, informal milk sharing seems like the next best thing.
Breastmilk and formula provides all the proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins needed for baby to thrive. But formula doesn’t have anti-bodies, anti-viruses, anti-allergies, anti-parasites, enzymes, hormones, and growth factors that are found in breastmilk. There are associated risks to formula feeding such as increased incidence of infectious morbidity as well as elevated risks of childhood obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breastmilk has all the ingredients needed for a baby to reach his/her optimal growth.
Informal Milk Sharing doesn’t come without its own risks. A 2013 study found that breastmilk purchased via the internet exhibited high overall bacterial growth and frequent contamination pathogenic bacteria, reflecting poor collection, storage or shipping practices. The collection and storage of breastmilk is important to retaining the health for the baby. Freshly expressed breastmilk should be stored at room temperature in covered containers for 3-4 hours optimal, in an insulated cooler bag for up to 24 hours, a refrigerator for 5-8 days, a freezer compartment of refrigerator for 2 weeks and a deep freezer for up to 6 months or 12 months under clean conditions. Never store milk in the door of the refrigerator or freezer. A pumping mother should be cleaning her breast pump parts after each use with warm soapy water or wash all separated parts in the dishwasher. Breast pump parts should be sanitized once daily. If a mother is seeking donor milk she should ask her donor about her wash routine and storage of breastmilk. HIV and other diseases such as Hepatitis B can be passed through breastmilk. It’s important for a mother to properly screen her donor to ensure the safety of the breastmilk. Most women receive STD testing through their prenatal care.
If a mother is seeking donor milk, there are a few websites that facilitate connections. Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets are global milk sharing networks based mainly on Facebook pages run by volunteers. Milk Share is an online forum in which a mother can donate $20.00 to join and find donor milk from a local mother. All three networks do not screen their donors, that is up to the recipient and donor to work out. Choosing donor milk over formula is not a choice all mothers would make. A woman must decide if the risks are worth the benefits and do what’s best for her family.
From WHO: Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, #18 (page 17):
“…..For those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative – expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or human-milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute ……depends on individual circumstances.” http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/42590/1/9241562218.pdf?ua=1&ua=1
Lindsey Ward is a student doula and mother to 4 living in Northern Virginia. She loves bowling and gardening when she’s not busy raising her children.
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