Monday, December 13, 2010

Breast Milk Sharing Blesses Babies

Mother's breast is best, but any breast milk is better than a substitute
Dr. Jack Newman is an amazing breastfeeding expert and resource, and his book "The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers" is my favorite breastfeeding book because of its comprehensive information and expert advice.  His website: is also a wonderful resource for breastfeeding mothers, full of videos and supportive information, as well as personal email support.

One of the major things I learned from Dr. Newman is that formula should not be the second choice for infant feeding after the first choice of the mother's own milk.  In fact, Dr. Newman asserts that donated or shared human breast milk should be the next feeding option if for some reason the infant's mother is unable to provide it herself.

What are the options for obtaining human breast milk?  
  • There are milk banks that take donated breast milk, pasteurize it, and distribute it to babies who need it.  Unfortunately milk banks don't have a large supply, and can't meet the demand for human milk.  There are a handful of milk banks in the US and even fewer in Canada.  Another problem with milk banks is the cost: about $3-$4 per ounce, and the family receiving the milk has to pay for it.  Another thing I just learned is that HMBANA milk banks use a form of slow pasteurization that kills the lactoferin in breast milk.  Lactoferin is an important part of breast milk, and is key to providing healthy nutrition to infants, particularly preemies and sick babies.
  • Another option is milk sharing.  This is an old tradition, going back through the history of the world.  Have you ever heard of a "wet nurse"?  Women breastfed other women's babies if there was a need.  Our modern society frowns on this because we have other options, like formula, and the values of breast milk and dangers of formula are strongly down played in today's world.  We forget that breast milk is crucial to an infant's healthy growth and development, and we think that substitutions are just as good when they actually aren't.  Milk sharing still happens today, but until recently it's been a somewhat taboo subject.  I recently read that actress Jenna Elfman donated her extra breast milk to a sick baby.

Eats on Feets Global encourages informed breast milk sharing
Emma Kwasnica is a wonderful lady I know who is a strong advocate for women and babies.  She recently started a breast milk sharing network on facebook, and it has quickly become global!  There are facebook groups for local areas all over the world, including at least one group for each state in the US.  My local group is Eats on Feets Utah, and you can look up your own group if you're interested in donating or receiving breast milk, or even just finding out more about milk sharing.  The purpose of each group is to connect breast milk donors with recipients and educate about informed milk sharing.  Women are encouraged to share medical information and take precautions, but the emphasis is on helping babies who need breast milk.

Eats on Feets in the news
Eats on Feets has become such an instant success, that even the Canadian and US governments have recently issued statements about milk sharing!  The FDA warned that milk sharing may not be safe because unlike milk from banks, the milk is not screened and pasteurized.  The Canadian government expressed similar concerns, but Emma Kwasnica addressed each of their concerns in a rebuttal statement.  She maintains that milk sharing is safe, provided the parties involved are cautious and informed.  Many breastfeeding women have blood test results from their prenatal care which show if there are any risk factors including HIV, hepatitis, or STD's that might be carried through breast milk, and full disclosure should be made between donors and recipients.  The FDA also held a special meeting on December 6, 2010 to discuss the human milk exchange issue, and decided not to regulate milk banks in the US.

Emma also recently appeared on a Canadian radio show and dispelled many of the concerns regarding milk sharing.  Part 1 is a lead in to Part 2, in which she addressed the concerns.

Here are some recent news articles and video segments regarding milk sharing:

Flash heat pasteurization of breast milk
If you're concerned about the safety of feeding your infant someone else's breast milk, you can easily flash heat the milk in your own home to pasteurize it.  While pasteurization can kill viruses including HIV, it also changes some of the vitamins and enzymes in the milk.  This form of pasteurization does NOT kill the lactoferin in breast milk, and also increases the amount of vitamin C.  Here is a video that shows how flash heating is done, along with step-by-step detailed instructions on how to safely do it at home:

So there you have it.  What do you think of milk sharing?

1 comment:

  1. I think milk sharing is awesome...then again, I'm on the donating end. If I'm honest with myself I would have to be very picky about who's breastmilk I accepted if I were in need. Praise the Lord I make enough milk to nurse my three and still donate. I only do it locally though, not through a bank or an organization. But I figure if God gave me this much milk, the least I can do is offer it up to other mom's who desperately want it for their own babies but can't make it (or can't make enough) on their own.