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

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?