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Breast Milk Sharing: Would You, Could You, With a Friend?

By amywindsor |

Would you give your breast milk to a friend’s baby?

Everyone knows that breast milk is the best, most natural option for babies. And everyone knows that sometimes breastfeeding just doesn’t work out like we want it to. There could be problems with milk production, a medical issue that doesn’t allow the mom to produce milk at all, the baby has latching problems, medications that make breast milk unsuitable for baby; a myriad of issues can stand between a mother and that perfect breastfeeding experience. But how far would you go to ensure that your baby gets breast milk as opposed to formula?

A growing number of milk sharing sites (and Craig’s List!) are allowing mothers to seek breast milk for their babies and to circumvent FDA sanctioned milk donor banks. Milk Banks require health testing for the donors, have strict guidelines on handling and storage of breast milk, and primarily provide donated milk to fragile and vulnerable infants in hospitals, making them unattainable for some women who are just looking for extra milk to supplement their own supply. The prospect of feeding your baby a stranger’s breast milk might make some squeamish, but there are others whose conviction that breast milk is the only option for their baby (even if they can’t provide it themselves) makes this new avenue to finding breast milk donors a welcome one.

Online breast milk sharing sites (Eats on Feets, Only the Breast, MilkShare) advise all their users to follow similar testing protocol to milk banks, but do not regulate the process, leaving the donors and recipients to hash out the details. Some of which do, but others don’t. Unregulated means just that: Women can choose how much testing/interviewing they are comfortable with and then either accept or buy the milk from the donor.

Which, I admit, makes me nervous. And feel a little icky.  I am 100% okay with the idea of my baby getting milk from a milk bank, especially if the milk is pasteurized. Heck, I even shared breast milk with my best friend when we were both nursing our first-borns (after a long conversation about whether we were okay with the idea of sharing). I just can’t make the leap to any state of “comfortable” with the idea of accepting milk from a stranger to feed my baby. I know there is a long history of wet nurses and co-nursing, and I shouldn’t rule anything out until I walk in that person’s shoes, but there is also a reason why the FDA and La Leche League do not endorse the sharing of breast milk. Breast milk is a body fluid and could carry a contagion from the person it came from. Period.

In the spirit of World Breastfeeding Week I ask: Could you stomach the thought of letting your baby drink a stranger’s breast milk? Even if it was tested thoroughly and you knew she was healthy? Would you share your stored breast milk with a friend for her baby, like I did?  Would you feed your baby a friend’s breast milk if they had extra and you needed some?

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About amywindsor

amywindsor

amywindsor

Amy Windsor is an avid mommy blogger whose blog, Bitchin' Wives Club, was named one of Babble's Top 100 Mom Blogs in 2012. She was a contributor to Babble's Parenting channels.

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18 thoughts on “Breast Milk Sharing: Would You, Could You, With a Friend?

  1. Linda, t.o.o. says:

    I’ve shared with friends and we’ve nursed each other’s babies, but I’d only use a stranger’s if I knew it had been tested.

  2. Angela says:

    Before I opted to supplement my supply I would try to increase it through natural means (fenugreek, pumping, etc) but if that didn’t work I’d opt to use formula over shared milk. I do believe that breast is best but I don’t see formula as the evil poison some make it out to be either.

  3. Anjie says:

    I just gave away about 50ish ounces of milk to a complete stranger. I love how you make out the people who are GIVING the milk to be maniacal, evil, unhealthy, drug addicts or something. Instead, why can’t we be painted as caring, loving mothers wanting to help out another caring, loving mother?

    1. amywindsor says:

      I’m sorry if I gave you that impression! I had to pump with my firstborn because he had latching issues, so I know how much time and energy goes into the pumping and storing process. I don’t think anyone would take the time to donate their milk that didn’t have a vested and altruistic interest in helping other babies get breast milk. What I failed to convey, is that when I shared with a friend, it felt like an intensely personal act. So personal, in fact, that it makes me squeamish to think of sharing with someone I don’t know. Does that make more sense?

      Also, from being a regular reader of the news, I have to say that I never want to underestimate how crazy people can be, so you just never know! I’d definitely want to see the test results, no matter how great or honest the donor seemed. :)

  4. bonnie says:

    I got milk from a neighbor it was the best gift I could have been given

    1. amywindsor says:

      I used to refer to my stash of frozen breast milk in the freezer as “liquid gold.” It could not have been more precious! It certainly felt like I worked hard enough to accumulate them. :)

  5. R. says:

    I’ve donated over 100 oz plus 14 oz of colostrum to a mother adopting. I took time out of my day with my girls and pumped specifically for her. I made sure all my equipment was sterilized, my hands and breasts were clean and used proper storage techniques. Seeing the look on that families faces and hearing my adoptive milk baby was gaining over a lb a week on my breastmilk made me feel awesome. How dare you try to bring me down from that.
    The FDA cannot regulate mother to family sharing, they have no business being involved in it. And really, where is the money to support promoting the safety of healthy women sharing breastmilk? There isn’t any…formula companies have the money. Women are feeding their own babies with this milk, why would they feed someone else’s baby if they were at risk of passing anything? Even the WHO recommends other mother’s milk before formula. Why do people find milk from another mother disgusting when they’ll use formula and milk from a completely different species. This was a very disappointing article to read during WBW and from someone who has shared breastmilk.

    1. amywindsor says:

      I’m sorry that you felt I was dismissive of sharing in any way! Please read my comment below that further explains where I was coming from with this. I think it is admirable and extremely generous of you to donate as you have and it is people like yourself that make it possible for some babies to get breast milk who would otherwise be on formula. The fact is, some women are now offering their breast milk for sale on Craig’s List which makes it seem a lot less altruistic. And in other cases women are accepting breast milk donations without asking to see tests from the woman who is providing the milk and that strikes me as being a bit too cavalier. Or just plain naive.

  6. Emma says:

    Well, standard medical care covers blood tests while a mother us pregnant. Surely if she is well enough to nurse her own baby she would be well enough to share milk with yours.

    Yes, there is an element of trust. However, when you buy formula you are also trusting that it has produced properly, is uncontaminated and contains everything the label says it does. ( think recalls!)

    Why not think a little more deeply about what formula is and where it cones from before you knock milk sharing with strangers.

    1. amywindsor says:

      It is the element of trust at the heart of the issue, I agree! In my case of sharing, I felt it was such a personal and intimate gesture among friends that it makes me uncomfortable to think of doing it with someone I don’t know. I think as long as people are comfortable with it and check the tests of the donor (even if they seem nice and like they’re really super awesome), then more power to all breast milk sharers. :)

  7. Melissa says:

    It is this is rather rediculous. there is only a 2 % chance of any disease passing through breastmilk, even HIV and AIDS cannot pass through if you flash heat (in a pan on the stove for 15 seconds on high heat) Anyway, most women who are going to donate would NEVER think of doing it if they had a disease!!!

    1. amywindsor says:

      I agree, but it is the 2% that scares me! And the fact that some women who are receiving milk dont ask to see the tests and probably don’t flash heat the milk before giving it to their baby, either.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Actually Eats on Feets and other facebook milksharing groups specifically say they are for sharing milk, not buying it. As a donor myself, the most I’ve asked for in return was the storage bags to put the milk in. If trust is the issue then I am completely open to sharing the tests done during my pregnancy or completely redoing them to put a mother’s mind at ease.

    1. amywindsor says:

      I was referring to people who have posted on Craig’s List that they were selling breast milk. It was not my intention to lump together these two VERY different groups.

  9. Carrie says:

    People are taking this article personally and not as a discussion. The author of this article is not trying to put anyone down just voicing their opinion. I choose formula over a stranger’s breast milk too. When people say that formula is bad for the baby etc… how do you think mothers who raised their babies on formula feel? Formula is not evil. We are so lucky to have formula! Imagine if we didn’t? How could mothers who are unable to breastfeed, feed their child? I was lucky enough to breastfeed my child but I was happy to know that if something happened to my supply there was formula to give my baby.

    This article too might cause an interesting discussion!!!

    http://www.parenting.com/blogs/show-and-tell/melanie-parentingcom/nestle-launches-high-tech-baby-formula-machine

  10. Britt says:

    I was formula fed. I have numerous health issues. My brother who was semi breast fed is healthy. It’s a struggle. If I could not breastfeed I would find a donor- I do not want my son growing up having to forgive me for not giving him the best. No formula is not evil- but it is not breast milk either. Be informed!

    1. amywindsor says:

      @britt I had varying degrees of success with breastfeeding with each of my three children and it KILLS me to admit that the one I breastfed the longest has the least amount of health issues. I say “it kills me to admit it” because I did the best I could for each of them in the situation that life handed us. I felt I couldn’t do more at the time and I hate having lingering regrets and second thoughts about the decisions I made then. But when I look at my children’s health histories, knowing what I know about exactly how long each of them was breastfed, I can’t help but wonder…

  11. Linda, t.o.o. says:

    “What I failed to convey, is that when I shared with a friend, it felt like an intensely personal act. So personal, in fact, that it makes me squeamish to think of sharing with someone I don’t know. Does that make more sense?” As someone who breastfed for a total of nine years, I have to say that, no, that doesn’t make sense to me at all. IME, the people who are squeamish about breastfeeding and think it’s so intimate are usually those with very little experience actually doing it.

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