Peer-to-peer breast milk sharing has recently taken the internet by storm with the mothers involved letting everyone in their path know of its new found presence online. But along with the multitudes of women pouring their hearts and milk bottles into the positives of milk sharing, there are quite a few negative opinions that are found nearby, too.
This has prompted a recent commentary published Sat. June 25, 2011 in the International Breastfeeding Journal based on survey and research by author and commentator James Akre, infant feeding research and breastfeeding advocate Dr. Karleen Gribble and historian and author Maureen Minchin.
The commentary focused on the internet models of milk sharing from groups such as the Human Milk 4 Human Babies Global Network or HM4HB which has 130 community pages across the globe accumulating a total of over 20,000 participants and currently 306 volulnteer page administrators. Delaware has its own active chapter with 121 fans who have made connections across the state to donate or find milk.
It brought to light the idea that peer-to-peer milk sharing may not be as bad and risky as some like Health Canada and the United States Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, have highly publicised and debated.
Arguing while some are legitimately concened about transference of disease through breast milk and the health, lifestyle and diet of the donating mother mainly because this sharing cannot be regulated, infant formulas are not without risk either. These negative and often uninformed opinions have not only devalued breast milk and breastfeeding, but also exaggerated the safety of infant formulas.
“The result,” the commentary revealed, is that “infant formula is considered the ‘obvious’ alternative to a mother’s own milk.” This goes directly against the “international infant feeding recommendation in place for the past 25 years.”
“In the light of the evidence, there is no such thing as riskfree infant-formula feeding. The more that is known about the risks of substituting for breast milk, the more reasonable parental choice to use donor milk becomes.”
Organizations such as the World Health Organization or WHO, American Academy of Pediatrics and the Spanish Pediatric Association Breastfeeding Committee all profess that not only should children get breast milk somehow, but that they should be breastfed or receive breast milk for the first two years of life.
As referenced in the WHO code for infant feeding, “For those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative – expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human-milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute fed with a cup.”
Opponents of peer-to-peer milk sharing argue the code does not refer to such sharing, however, it does not suggest how an infant should receive the milk from the wet-nurse, merely that the infant receive the milk.
“Appropriate donor screening, reliable methods of exchange and feeding, and expediting voluntary sharing of medical records” are all suggested in the commentary to keep the risk of milk sharing minimal for all involved.
HM4HB promotes informed choice between donors and recipients, which can include all of these suggestions, according to their values statement, “The network expects members to respect the space and each other by practicing full disclosure. Complete honesty about all aspects relevant to milksharing allows all people involved to make truly informed choices.”
The commentary goes on to report that many oppose peer-to-peer milk sharing because they feel it takes away from potential breast milk bank donors. It suggests this is not the case as milk banks cater to the sick and hospitalized infants while the internet model caters mainly to those who do not qualify for banked milk. There are also many women who have milk to spare, but were not accepted by the milk banks for reasons including (but not limited to) not having enough milk to send (often times 100 oz or more at a time) or recent travels.
“Thus,” the authors reported, “mother-to-mother milk-sharing should be viewed as complementary to donor milkbanking and not as its competitor.” Those donors now have a place to offer their milk to someone who didn’t qualify for the milk banks, attempting to give one more child breast milk who may not have otherwise had access.
The authors write, “Providing breast milk is not the same as breastfeeding. Nor are we saying that mother-to-mother milk-sharing is risk-free, that the internet is an ideal platform for promoting it, or that milk donors and recipients alike can proceed without caution.” They are, however, suggesting that perhaps instead of approaching peer-to-peer breast milk sharing automatically as a negative, fearful or disease ridden idea it should be approached with curiousity in mind in the efforts of promoting healthier children.
After all, they write:
“Well-informed and highly motivated women have begun extending control over the availability and use of human milk, and it is improbable they will be deterred by unsupportive or critical public health authorities. Indeed, they await no one’s permission.”
What are your experiences with breast milk sharing? What are your opinions on formula, milk banks and peer-to-peer sharing?
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For more information on HM4HB, read A Facebook Success: Families share breast milk through local HM4HB chapter.