Is Donor Breast Milk Safe?

Growth and Development, Pregnancy
Is Donor Breast Milk Safe?

If you recently became a mother, you’ve probably been bombarded by all kinds of information about how to feed your baby. Breastfeeding has become a popular trend over the last few years, with its proponents touting the various health benefits of this choice. Breastmilk has been proven to boost the ability of babies to fight off infection. It’s also cost effective, safe and convenient. Formula has faced a downward trend in popularity as a result.

But nursing comes with its own challenges. Some mothers, for whatever reason, may find they have difficulty producing enough milk. Then on the other hand, there are those who produce a surplus, which they freeze and store. Because of this imbalance, milk banks have been created.

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America provides a list of participating donor sites. Generally such banks have strict rules governing how people freeze and ship their milk (and how it is processed and screened.) But they also typically charge up to $4 per ounce, leading many would-be donors to turn away and search for other means to get their milk into the hands of mothers who have a need.

Responding to the call for a safe, inexpensive supply, organizations like Milkshare and Eats on Feets, where members swap milk, have sprung up in the United States and abroad. Eats on Feets caters to mothers in ten different countries, and has an active Facebook page.

Unfortunately, the FDA warns that mothers who feed their babies from an unscreened human source (other than themselves) are putting their newborns at risk, stating on their webpage that: “Risks for the baby include exposure to infectious diseases, including HIV, to chemical contaminants, such as some illegal drugs, and to a limited number of prescription drugs that might be in the human milk, if the donor has not been adequately screened.” Representatives of milk share programs argue that mothers who are safely breastfeeding their own children are unlikely to pass on anything harmful, and that members often do their own screening.

The FDA recommends doing research at sites like the CDC and The Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics before making an informed decision. There are a wide range of options available, and each mother should carefully evaluate the risks and benefits, to achieve the best possible outcome. 

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