Human milk has been shared since the olden days. Informal milk sharing takes place when one mother has a surplus of breast milk and another has a need. These moms get together so their babies both receive sufficient nourishment.
Formal milk sharing or milk banking takes place when moms donate their surplus breast milk to a profit or non-profit agency. That agency then screens, pasteurizes, and distributes the milk.
With informal milk sharing, there are some risks. The health of the donors is the primary concern. Moms should be in good health after a healthy pregnancy. Blood testing is valuable to prevent the passing of hepatitis B or C or HIV. Current eating habits, smoking, and alcohol consumption are also concerns. Toxin exposure, regular medications, and supplements are good to know. How is the milk expressed and stored? The milk should contain no additives (like cow’s milk) or be watered down. You want your baby to have the safest, best possible sustenance.
If you are considering informal milk sharing, an in-person conversation with the donor mother should help you assess her fit as a donor for your child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a policy statement for pre-term infants in a hospital setting, strongly endorsing the use of pasteurized donor milk. There isn't currently a policy statement regarding informal milk sharing for healthy infants in the home setting. The AAP doesn’t currently endorse the practice, but it is common. You should discuss it with your pediatrician if you are considering participation in informal milk sharing.
High-risk infants have an immature immune system and are at high risk for infection. Pre-term infants should stick to pasteurized donor milk from a milk bank where donors are screened.
Listen as Dr. Margaret Parker and Dr. Michelle Brenner join Melanie Cole, MS in this encore episode from 2018, to share their best advice for milk sharing.