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Moms Talk: Is it Safe to Share Breast Milk?

Patch's Mom Council weighs in on the idea of feeding infants breast milk from another woman.

Mothers are using social media sites, such as the Facebook page Human Milk 4 Human Babies—Minnesota, to find or share their breast milk with other mothers.

While the FDA issued a warning against mothers sharing milk via the Internet—stating that the milk was likely not screened properly for diseases and contamination or properly collected and stored—many mothers do so anyway. Many times those who seek breast milk from others believe in its great benefits, but are unable to breast-feed or produce enough milk to sustain their baby.

Patch asked its Moms Council to weigh in on whether or not it was safe in their eyes to share breast milk with other mothers:

Sarah Schweitzer, Richfield/Edina

"As an expectant mom, I understand the benefits of breastfeeding. I also understand that some women cannot for medical reasons, or simply have a difficult time making enough milk. If I find myself unable to breast feed, I would not feel comfortable getting breast milk from someone else and giving it to my baby. The risks of giving my baby untested breast milk from a stranger outweigh the benefits in my opinion. Many babies are given formula from they day they are born and grow up to be healthy, happy kids."

Robin Marty, Fridley

"As the mother of a four month old who loves to eat, I find myself constantly wishing that , both for the sake of convenience and our family budget. The 30 plus ounces of formula Bass eats daily starts to take a toll on the pocket book, and there's nothing worse than the moment of terror when you realize you're away from home without a bottle, and your child could go off like a screaming, starving bomb at any moment.

"I've come to terms with being a formula feeder, and though I would have (and honestly tried to) jump through any hoop to have been able to provide my own milk for my child, the idea of donor milk, well, honestly it makes me pretty uncomfortable.

"Inherently, the risks of donor milk is pretty low, and for women who have premature babies, the immunities provided in milk is the best foot up for healthy growth and development. With a system in place for screening donors, there's no reason to worry about any sort of contaminant, and in many ways the milk would be much safer even than formula, which has been known to have some contamination issues of its own.

"The idea of milk from another mother is nothing new. After all, wet nurses are practically the oldest profession there is. Even now you can purchase human breast milk for your child, as Neil Patrick Harris and his partner are doing for one of their twins, although he quips that it "costs more than sushi." It's natural, all the hip stars are doing it, so why do I still feel like somehow it's just...Icky?

"It's pasteurized. It's screened. It's got antibodies that formula just can't replicate.  But given the option, knowing that this would be a permanent issue rather than a short term solution while helping a preemie grow or dealing with a short term health problem of my own that would cause a breast-feeding hiatus, I'd probably still stick with my formula. For one thing, financially it's an even greater burden than what I am already facing.  But for another, I guess the benefits just can't quite outweigh that gross out factor I can't let go of.

"Now, once the genetically modified cows are fully producing, then we may have to talk."

Lisa Buck, Orono

"I breast-fed three of our kids, but never had enough milk to share. I didn't produce enough milk so I had to see a lactation consultant and ultimately decided to supplement with formula. Didn't feel guilty at all, but glad that they were getting some breast milk."

Christina Barberot, St. Louis Park

"I wouldn't do it. I think if you can't or do not want to nurse, go with formula. There are many choices, there is quality control, and it contains vitamins and nutrients. 
Lactation looses it's value if the mother is not ingesting the right foods—and how would you know what the donor had eaten or drank? And there is the whole issue of hind-milk, and the baby gets different nutrients at different stages from breast milk. Nature has a program, and this seems to mess with it. I think formula would be a safer alternative."

Katelynn Metz, Minnetonka Patch Editor

"I would never share breast milk—ever. Let's remember that just as breast milk is made up of all the nutrients from a mom, it's also made up of all the toxins too—like alcohol and junk food. I can't guarantee that a person from whom I get breast milk for my baby hasn't had a bunch of booze, McDonald's or even crack cocaine in the 24 hours before they pump out the breast milk. And without knowing 100 percent that the milk is safe, I think it is foolish and dangerous to give it to your child.

"I wonder if the moms who do this would ever find a stranger on the Internet, then allow this stranger to watch their infant for 24 hours? I bet not. What's the difference here? The fact is that the benefits of breast milk just don't outweigh the risks of feeding your child something that's potentially dangerous. Besides, these days formula has all the vitamins and nutrients that babies need.

"If a mom can't or doesn't want to nurse her child, she should never feel like she's a bad mom for giving the baby formula. In my experience, motherhood has so much room for guilt, why start on day one with nursing? We got the rest of our lives to feel like we let down our kids in some way!"

Do you having something to say on this issue? Tell us in the comments section below.

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The goal of the council is to explore topics of interest to moms—and dads— everywhere, then produce informative features for Patch readers, like you. If you’re interested in joining the council, please say so in the comments section below, or send an e-mail to your local Patch editor.

Mrs.Callahan April 07, 2011 at 10:45 PM
The FDA says a lot of things--I agree with some of their advisories, I disagree with others. I appreciate the FDA's work (heck, I'm paying for it) but I don't make my decisions based on what they say, any more than I would decide to purchase a house because HUD tells me to. The advisories are opinions of other people, I choose to live according to my own opinions, developed through extensive, extensive research. I also take full, personal responsibility for those choices, so I make them with utmost care. Are you 100% certain that your baby won't get AIDS from the milk she drinks because she's getting formula? I'm afraid I don't see the connection here--babies who drink formula are exposed to a number of chemicals and contaminants.
Mell April 08, 2011 at 10:33 PM
A good point that was brought up by a friend of mine in discussing HIV/AIDS transmission through breastmilk is that if it truly is as big a risk as implied by the FDA statement then ALL mothers are at risk for transmitting HIV/AIDS to their OWN babies & ALL mothers should be routinely screened for it every 3-6 months. I'm healthy & my lifestyle choices do not put me at risk for HIV/AIDS. I trust my husband & am confident that he is honest with me & his lifestyle choices do not put him at risk for HIV/AIDS. However, none of that guarantees anything, whether I'm a milk donor or not, I could transmit HIV/AIDS via my breastmilk if I contracted it and so could any other lactating woman. Either HIV/AIDS is so scary & potentially dangerous that all pregnant &/or breastfeeding mothers should be tested every 3-6 months OR the FDA is using it as a scare tactic against milk sharing because they know people jump when they hear/read AIDS. Formula potentially containing bug parts, melamine, botulism, etc. from some multi-national conglomerate vs. screened milk donors with whom I can meet personally... I know what I would choose, and yes I do have a child who had some formula and is "just fine" but if I could go back & do it over again... I would find a milk donor instead of formula.
Tiffany May 01, 2012 at 01:43 AM
I am a breastmilk donor. Prior to being approved by Mother's Milk Bank of New England I was phone-screened, then I answered a medical questionnaire for me and one for my baby, then I released our medical records, my doctor and my baby's pediatrician signed off on our health, then they tested my blood. The whole time, they are educating me on how to collect my milk under the most sanitary conditions. Once my milk arrives at the bank they thaw it, test it, homogenize and pasteurize it, combine it with the milk of other moms and test it again. They can test it for contaminants and also for composition - fats and nutrients. It's really impressive. As their website says, in fifty years of milk banking not one baby was ever sickened, many have thrived. I also have advertised on Eats on Feets because I've had so much milk. Most moms just dont wNt to see their precious milk wasted and will give it away for free or in exchange for more breastmilk bags. If I adopted or couldn't produce milk, I would absolutely turn to a bank or a milk sharing site.
Kim October 29, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Kimberly In my case ive actually consulted a lactation expert. He is helping me with my milk supply. Meanwhile searched and tested a mother who has a baby the same weeks as mine.and is being fpllowed up for a strict diet And basicly carefully made my decision to take donated breasrmilk. My baby is now 2 months. And im gonma start giving him my breastmilk...formula is good buy everyone has a right to what is best for your baby. And my baby has never had formula and I refuse to let go of breastmilk. Its done so much good ..
Marguerite Martin November 07, 2013 at 10:54 AM
I pumped the first four months but never made much milk due to HELLP and Preeclampsia issues that I had at his birth, but I give my baby breast milk from two of my close friends who make too much milk and I feel very lucky and grateful that I have the opportunity to do that. He has really received half breastmilk and half formula from the beginning and I think that is one of the reasons that he is a preemie sucess story! He arrived six weeks early but has thrived from day one.

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