Human Breast Milk Sharing – Is it safe?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents feed babies breast milk for the first six months of a child’s life.

The ACP said this will provide the best nutrition possible for your growing child. Studies also show that a mother’s milk prevents diseases, including diabetes and leukemia. These are some of the many reasons that mothers will go to great lengths to feed their child breast milk, even if it comes from another mom.

Milk sharing among women is an ancient practice, and is still common in cultures around the world. It may surprise some to learn that the practice is also becoming popular in America, with hundreds of women are sharing milk in Alabama.

Through the power of social media sites like Human Milk for Human Babies, moms like Kristin Wyatt and Amber Willenbrock are able to feed their infants breast milk, even though the milk is not their own. It is donated from mothers like Elizabeth Mattioli. While Wyatt and Willenbrock said they cannot produce enough to meet their child’s demands, Mattioli has plenty to share.

“It feels good to be able to share. I feel very blessed to be able to do that,” Mattiloi said.  “When you have small children, you can’t really serve in church or be active in the community in big ways that other people would think are significant. But this gives you a feeling of significance and you are just doing something small.”

Willenbrock said her baby cannot properly digest formula, which leads to digestion problems when the baby consumes formula instead of human milk.

“I’ve been lucky enough to get two donations that have lasted long enough that I don’t need any right this minute,” Willenbrock said.

Wyatt said her baby was born premature and started life drinking donor milk. She said in the past, she used formula and traditional breast feeding methods with her older children. Today, she uses donor milk, an option she wants other mothers to know about.

“When my family and friends find out what I feed my baby, the reaction has been more positive than negative,” Wyatt said.

Willenbrock said she occasionally will receive a “sideways glance” when she tells her friends what she has decided to feed her baby.

“There are some people that think it is kind of strange because it’s not a normal thing that you hear about all the time. To me, it’s normal. This is just somebody who is donating milk, and she needs milk, and I’m OK with that,” Willenbrock said.

Both Wyatt and Willenbrock said they never buy milk online, instead only take donated milk. They said it is important that the donor has zero monetary incentive to avoid dangerous scams, like watering down the milk to fill more bags. Both women said they have their own ways of checking out the donor mothers and always pick up the donation in person.

“I feel like I would get that one on one gut feeling when I meet them face to face is something was wrong,” Wyatt said.

“I do a mini background check. For me, that makes me feel comfortable. It’s a group of moms and we are just trying to help each other out, so I don’t think there is too much concern with it,” said Willenbrock.

While all mothers want the very best for their child, UAB medical director of the RNICU, Rune Toms, MD, said the risk with directly giving your baby another mother’s milk outweighs the benefits.

“We do live in a world where there are viruses, bacteria and fungus everywhere. It is part of our environment that we live in. So there is always a chance that certain viruses and bacteria can be present in breast milk,” Toms said.

Toms said women with the best intentions can unknowingly transmit serious diseases.

“We don’t know how that milk has been handled. We don’t know how that milk has been collected. There is a high risk for contamination of both viruses and bacteria,” said Toms, whose views are also in line with the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendations.

Board certified lactation consultant, Sylvia Edwards, said if a mother is having trouble producing enough milk for their child, they should contact the hospital where their baby was born and set up an appointment.

“The thing that makes the big difference if they are going to have antiquate milk for their baby is what they do very early on. From the very beginning, in those first two weeks make a big difference,” Edwards said.

Toms said women should only use donated milk that has been tested and treated. Before now, women in Alabama have not had any local, safer options.

“It’s a special gift that only a mom can give,” said Katherine Wood, the program coordinator for Mothers’ Milk Bank of Alabama.

The Community Food Bank of Central Alabama will house the bank that will open to the public in August. This is the first non-profit milk bank in the state of Alabama. The donations will fill the needs of NICU unites around the state first before donating to full term babies in need.

“I would encourage moms that have extra breast milk to donate to the critically ill and the sickest of the babies,” Wood said.

Toms hopes that mothers like Mattioli will donate enough that the bank can quickly reach all mothers who want a safe way to feed their child donor milk.

We want to know what you think. Would you feed your child another mother’s milk? Let us by voting in the poll below, and sharing your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Click here for more information about Mothers’ Milk Bank of Alabama.

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