Deciding how to feed a baby can be one of the hardest decisions a mom makes. While research shows that breastfeeding is the best choice for mom and baby when it comes to health and connectivity, it's not always an easy task for either party. However, some women are adamant about making sure their baby's needs are met exclusively with mother's milk, and that's leading to some new trends in nursing.
Milk sharing is where a mom uses the breast milk of someone else to avoid introducing their child to formula. While it's not uncommon for mom's who adopt to buy breast milk from a milk banking association, milk sharing is different. Moms who have babies, but are having a hard time producing milk actually ask people they know to donate their milk or breast feed their child.
If mom does not have a friend who is lactating, she will seek breast milk from strangers who are willing to donate or sell it.
This practice has become popular, with actresses like Salma Hayek breastfeeding a hungry child that wasn't hers and receiving loads of both negative and positive attention for it. Because of the increase in this practice, researchers have taken notice and looked into the problems with milk sharing.
While wanting breast milk for our children is not a bad thing, moms need to know the potential dangers that come along with feeding their child someone else's breast milk.
13 Breast Milk Is Designed For Kids At Certain Ages
When a child is born, mom's body offers colostrum, a form of liquid gold that helps build a child's immunity and keep them full until the milk comes in. As a baby ages, breast milk changes to provide the proper fat and nutrients for a child at their particular stage of life. It's an amazing process that is possible because mom gave birth to her child and her body knows what her baby needs.
Women who take breast milk from friends or anonymous donors don't know exactly what they are getting in the age department. A newborn receiving milk pumped by a mom who is nursing an 18 month-old is not going to receive the same nutrients as what mom's milk would provide.
Of course, formula is also not customized for age, so mom has to weigh that as part of her decision as well.
12 Breast Milk Is Designed For Specific Genders
Researcher recently discovered something they didn't know about breast milk: it looks to be tailored to a child's gender. When monkeys were studied, researchers found that mom's milk offered boys a heavy dose of fat and protein, making it thick and rich. Girls received high doses of calcium that didn't have as much fat.
Because boys and girls develop at different rates, the monkey moms made milk tailored to the needs they had. It helped them grow properly and encouraged bone and brain development to happen on a particular trajectory.
When mom lets someone else breast feed her child or takes milk from someone she doesn't know, she is losing out on offering her son or daughter the exact milk they need based on their gender. While the differences may not be large enough to notice, researchers can't say this won't have an effect. Again, formula is not made for each gender based on their needs, so mom not breastfeeding herself is a risk no matter how she chooses to supplement.
11 Attachment Is A Part Of Breastfeeding
If mom is having trouble breastfeeding, her first reaction should be to seek help from a lactation specialist. There are ways to increase milk production, and making sure a baby is latched properly can go a long way in helping mom nurse.
When moms jump straight to milk sharing, they run the risk of deciding nursing is too hard and that depending on someone else to produce the milk is the better option. The problem with this approach is that both baby and mom miss out on the skin-to-skin connection and the attachment that goes along with it that takes place when nursing is in the picture.
It's still possible to hold and cuddle a baby, even if they're not nursing, but moms who breastfeed spend a large amount of time with a baby pressed up against them. Breastfeeding also releases oxytocin, the love hormone, and depending on someone else's milk will rob mom of this natural attachment drug.
10 Pumping Equipment Is Not Always Sanitized
We would like to assume that people who are kind enough to offer their breast milk, even if they are doing it for a price, will follow the rules for sanitizing the equipment they use to pump it out. If our friend just nurses our child from the breast this isn't a consideration, but if we are taking frozen milk from someone, it has to be pumped.
A study on milk sharing associations, where moms voluntarily offer their milk to moms who need some assistance, found that less than half of them followed all five practices for sanitation, one of those being sanitizing breast pumps.
Breast pumps should only be used by one person, but even if a pumping donor follows that rule, they still need to be cleaned and sanitized to protect a baby from germs or risks of infection. The fact that this isn't happening in what sounds like the majority of cases is problematic.
9 Moms Don't Always Follow The Rules On Freezing And Thawing
As magical as breast milk is, it doesn't last forever, and people have to follow the guidelines for freezing it to ensure it doesn't go bad or lose its potency.
Breast milk does not need to sit out at room temperature for more than eight hour. Once it's frozen, breast milk can last for six months, but after that point it needs to be thrown out if not used.
This brings up another problem with milk sharing or buying from donors mom doesn't know who aren't regulated. There is no way to guarantee the milk hasn't been left out for too long. It's also entirely possible that a woman whose milk has been in the freezer for over six months will decide to sell it.
She can make quick cash and avoid using milk that doesn't meet regulatory standards. This can be very unsafe for the baby who receives the milk that has not been properly stored.
8 Mom's Milk Supply Will Decrease
Though there are times when mom needs some help because she isn't producing enough milk for her little one, there is always a danger that dependence on milk sharing will make milk production even lower.
Milk production is a supply and demand situation, so the more a baby nurses or mom pumps, the more milk is produced. If mom is using milk from other women to feed her baby, she is missing out on opportunities to encourage her body to produce milk, and this will only lead to her supply going further down.
While leaning on milk sharing as a temporary solution may work, it's essential that mom stay focused on bringing up her own supply by continuing to pump, attempting to nurse, and using supplements and recipes to help her produce more milk. Letting milk from milk sharing take the place of attempting to nurse will make mom dependent.
7 Moms Don't Always Know Their Donors
This reason alone makes milk sharing a huge problem. While there are definitely risks to even letting a friend or family member nurse mom's baby, the risks increase when mom takes milk from someone she doesn't know.
Though many moms will donate milk to strangers who are having a hard time producing, and they do this out of love meaning no harm, if mom doesn't know who her milk is coming from, she has no way to find out what it could contain.
When we breastfeed our own children, we know what we've eaten and if we've consumed alcohol or prescription drugs, so we know when it's safe to offer our child our breast milk and when it's not. We don't know anything about milk given through milk sharing since many milk sharing associations don't have any testing or regulatory standards.
While it may be advised that women donating follow a certain set of rules, we don't actually know if they do, so we take milk that could contain anything and give it to our children.
6 Infections Can Spread Through Milk Sharing
Breastfeeding is usually okay if mom has an infection such as mastitis or the common cold. However, certain infections can pass through breast milk, so if mom takes milk from an informal milk sharing place, she could very well be giving her child milk that can make them ill.
The HIV infection can pass through breast milk, and it is not recommended that women with HIV nurse their babies. Tuberculosis can also pass through breast milk, though it is safe after a woman has been treated for a certain amount of time to continue nursing. Cytomegalovirus(CMV) also needs to be treated before mom can nurse, and this virus can be very dangerous to babies if passed on.
While mom can make sure she is healthy and clear of these infections before nursing, she can't do the same if she takes donated or purchased milk. There is no guarantee that the person who provided the milk knew they had these diseases before donating, so mom is taking a chance every time she gives a child milk that is not her own.
5 Milk Banking Associations Are Better Regulated
Informal milk sharing associations with no specific guidelines or ways to verify if milk is safe are definitely easier to access and cheaper than receiving milk from the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. However, the latter interviews donors about their lifestyle and health and screens milk to make sure it is safe. They also store it properly.
Milk from the Human Milk Banking Association is generally reserved for premature babies who need it, but it can be purchased. It's not cheap. Coming in at over four dollars an ounce, it's a very expensive way to breastfeed a baby, but it's much safer than taking untested milk.
If informal milk sharing associations had a way to put in place and verify donors followed rules for milk donations, they could help decrease the risks associated with donated or sold milk. However, the testing and interviews take time and cost money which is a big reason informal associations don’t bother.
4 Milk From Sharing Can Contain Allergens
When we offer our child someone else's milk, we also offer them whatever that person eats. A mom's diet can have a huge effect on a baby's health and digestive system, and for babies at risk for food allergies, it can be an especially large risk to give them someone else's milk.
We don't know what milk donor moms eat unless they offer us a description. Even then, we are taking their word. Friends who milk share may have a slightly better idea of what their donor eats, but even then there is always a chance of an allergen food slipping in and being problematic for the child who consumes the milk.
Formula is not perfect in this area, but it can usually be verified as having or not having any major allergens in it.
3 The Motive Of Money Can Make People Dishonest
For women buying milk from other moms, the motive of money comes into play. While we would like to assume that a fellow mother understands the importance of being motivated by altruism and love for babies, there are women who just see the dollar signs and not the women and baby behind them who will need their milk.
Women who charge for breast milk often don't offer any extra guarantees of safety. They charge because they can, and they may offer milk that has been frozen too long, milk full of contaminants, or milk that has been kept in unsanitary surroundings just to make some cash.
If mom is going to take part in milk sharing, looking for donated milk is probably a safer bet to take the motive of money out of the equation. Unless paying for milk ensures a higher level of safety standards, donated milk is likely given with more sincere motives.
2 Milk From Sharing Can Be Diluted
Researchers studied breast milk that was being sold online through milk sharing sites, and the results were less than stellar. In 10% of the milk chosen for study samples, the milk contained either cow's milk or formula mixed in with breast milk. That means that the breast milk was a hybrid of what moms thought they were buying and added liquids to top off the donations and make more cash.
It's also important to remember that researchers only tested batches of the milk. If every donated bag of milk had been tested, that 10% might have been much higher.
Moms who don't want their children exposed to formula may not have a choice if they participate in informal milk sharing, and since babies can be allergic to dairy, they may fall ill if they are given it the first year of life without mom knowing.
1 Milk From Sharing Can Contain Drugs That Aren't Safe For Babies
While it's possible for another mother's milk to contain hard core drugs, like heroine or cocaine, it's more likely that a woman may be using an over the counter or prescription drug unintentionally that isn't good for babies.
Medication is classified based on whether or not it is likely to harm a child if passed through breast milk, but there are a plethora of medications that have never been tested and can therefore have unknown effects on children. If a mom who donates or sells milk is using one of these drugs without knowing, or if she is choosing to take a risk but doesn't tell other moms that, she may be putting babies at risk.
Formula definitely has its disadvantages, and it should probably be more regulated than it is, but mom has to weigh the risks of formula against the chance of a baby consuming medication that is not safe for them.
Resources: Thejournal.ie, USnews.com, Fitpregnancy.com, Babycenter.com