Pregnancy and you blog

Breast milk sharing: How does it work?

By Julie A. Lamppa, C.N.M., R.N. March 3, 2017

Much to the chagrin of those who struggle to make enough breast milk, some women easily produce enough to feed quadruplets. With freezers full of pumped breast milk, these women might worry about whether or not they’ll be able to use it all before it expires. This is often how breast milk sharing begins.

Breast milk sharing occurs both formally and informally. On the formal side, many milk banks belong to The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), a professional association for supporters of nonprofit donor human milk banking. HMBANA has policies for donor human milk collection involving the rigorous screening of potential donors’ health and medication use. Milk bank donors are also instructed on proper collection, storage and shipping — and their milk is pasteurized before it’s distributed. Women who donate their breast milk in this way aren’t paid. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of these banks.

Informal milk sharing practices occur between friends, family and even strangers online. Websites connecting people who want to sell and buy breast milk often include recommendations for buyers on how to minimize health and safety risks, such as making sure the donor has been screened for certain infections. But are these measures enough?

Recent research suggests that one of the risks of buying breast milk online is the presence of bacterial growth and contamination. A 2015 study also showed that breast milk bought online sometimes contains cow’s milk, possibly due to sellers’ monetary incentive to boost the volume of their product. Generally speaking, only breast milk and formula should be given to babies under age one.

In addition, a 2010 study showed that of more than 1,000 women interested in donating their breast milk, about 3 percent tested positive for an infection. Giving your baby breast milk obtained from an unscreened donor could expose your baby to an infection.

Breast milk can be a wonderful thing to share. We know that it’s the optimal food for babies and that not all mothers can breast-feed or produce enough breast milk. Having said this, we also need to be smart. Not only do donors and buyers need to do their homework, they need to make responsible decisions to ensure the health of our babies.

March 03, 2017