Milk sharing: Would you nurse another mom's baby?

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Read on to learn more about milk sharing and find out if you have what it takes to breastfeed another mother's baby.

Nursing a baby

Would you nurse another mother’s child? Read on to learn more about milk sharing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and various medical organizations recommend mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first 6 months. Not only is this practice good for babies but it is also beneficial for mothers.

A lot of experts say that breastmilk is the ultimate source of nutrition for babies as its components help protect babies against infection and diseases. Nutrients found in breastmilk, such as protein, calcium and iron, are more easily absorbed by a baby’s body, compared to those found in infant formula.

As a bonus, mothers also benefit from breastfeeding. It helps mothers recover from childbirth more quickly and it also prevents the occurrence of either ovarian or breast cancer. More importantly, it brings a mother closer to her baby.

It’s a given then that it is really better for mothers to breastfeed their babies. However, many women who wish to give breastmilk to their babies say they cannot do so because of their ‘inability to produce milk.’

Although scientifically, there are only very few women who cannot produce breastmilk, some moms find it difficult to give their kids breastmilk and so opt to use donated breastmilk, i.e. go for milk sharing or, for others, wet nursing.

History of wet nursing and milk sharing

Wet nursing is the practice of nursing another woman’s baby, and, during earlier times, was even a profitable way for women to earn a living. However, with the invention of infant formula and technological advancements that help ‘milk-less’ mothers produce milk, the concept of wet nursing eventually grew less popular.

In the early part of the 20th century, unwed mothers were hired to feed sick babies whose mothers were unable to provide milk for them. These milk donors were screened for diseases through a rigid set of physical examinations and continued to breastfeed their children so that they could continue to produce milk.

Eventually, doctors who were aware of the amazing properties of human milk found a new way to provide breastmilk to sick babies and children. Soon, milk banks were introduced to the public.

Now, mothers who wish to donate milk have to go through a series of tests, more comprehensive than the previous ones, to ensure that they are qualified to give milk.

Donated milk is stored in milk banks. However, milk banks only dispense milk to those who have prescriptions, and they can be very expensive.

Of course, we know for a fact that mothers want their children to have the best in nutrition. So what do these women do when  they can’t produce milk and getting milk from milk banks is too expensive ?

That’s where “milk sharing” comes to play. Milk sharing can actually provide a solution for mothers who cannot breastfeed.

Many mothers who have an abundance of breastmilk are more than willing to share their milk. Usually, they ‘advertise’ their excess milk in internet forums because they consider throwing their excess milk away wasteful. Sometimes, milk sharing happens between friends and neighbors.

However, a lot of individuals and organizations are against unrestricted milk sharing because of the various risks involved in this practice. So before you start sharing milk with anyone, try taking into consideration several important factors, including those listed below:

Advantages of milk sharing

If a mother cannot produce milk, her baby can still benefit from all the components of breastmilk through milk sharing. Donor milk will still be easily absorbed by her baby’s body because human milk is species-specific, so it can still protect a baby from diseases.

Donor milk can also be therapeutic for babies suffering from food intolerance, children with tissue and organ damage, and children recovering from illnesses. It can also help premature babies who are on the brink of death.

Mothers who are too weak or unable to breastfeed their babies can expect donor milk to provide for the medicinal and nutritional needs of their babies.

Risks of casual milk sharing

Medical experts do not advise mothers to casually share their breastmilk because of the risks involved.

For example, a lot of viruses can be transmitted through breastfeeding such as HIV and Hepatitis B. New strains of bacteria can also be passed on to babies through milk sharing.

While mothers may think it safe to practice milk sharing with close friends or family members, medical experts frown on the idea. An article on the NY Daily News website actually states that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics both “recommend against milk sharing via the Internet on the basis that donors may not be adequately screened for diseases like HIV or for prescription drug use that could potentially harm babies.”

The safe way to do milk sharing

If you have an abundant supply of breastmilk and would like to be a milk donor, make sure that you are in good health. It would also be best to go through screening at a regulated milk bank, or be screened by health professionals who are trained to do so.

Screening is usually done in 2 stages. First, a potential milk donor will have to fill out a questionnaire that will ask her to show details of her medical history.

A donor may not be allowed to donate milk for a variety of reasons, some of which include blood transfusion within the last 12 months, organ or tissue transplant within the last 12 months, use of illegal drugs, use of prescription drugs, smoking, history of hepatitis or chronic infections, and drinking of hard liquor 24 hours prior to donating.

If a potential donor passes the first stage of screening, then she proceeds to the second stage, where she has to go through blood tests.

It’s your decision

Milk sharing with close friends or family is not necessarily safer than doing it with a stranger. Sometimes, family and friends may not be aware of any disease that they may have or they may be reluctant to reveal things about their medical history.

Therefore, the best way to go about milk sharing is to take the necessary precautions.

If you really want to give your baby donated breastmilk, it’s still safer to go to a regulated milk bank. It may be more expensive than milk from a friend or from an internet forum but it is definitely safer for your baby.

Some moms though, go to the Human Milk for Human Babies (HM4HB) Philippines website or join the HM4HB Facebook group and other breastfeeding groups to look for milk donors or to offer their excess milk to moms whose babies need breastmilk. Others go to trusted entities who are known for screening breastmilk donors and gathering breastmilk donations (usually for sick and/or premature babies), such as Medela Moms.

Again, when it comes to milk sharing, ultimately it’s your choice. However, do keep in mind again what’s best for your baby, and seek medical advice if needed.

What about you? Would you share your milk?  Would it be okay if someone else shared their milk with your child?  Would it have to be another family member or close friend?  Share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment!