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Informal Sharing of Breast Milk Gains Popularity

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 04 Nov 2019
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Image: Pediatric organizations warn against sharing breast milk (Photo courtesy of Getty Images).
Image: Pediatric organizations warn against sharing breast milk (Photo courtesy of Getty Images).
Women unable to produce enough breast milk are increasingly practicing unsafe informal milk-sharing, according to a new study.

Researchers at Northwell Health (Lake Success, NY, USA) conducted an anonymous Facebook survey among 650 mothers. They also conducted a statistical analysis of the characteristics of publicly available blog posts about receiving donor breast milk. The results revealed that more than 50% of the women had no safety concerns about the informally donated breast milk, and almost 80% did not medically screen the donors, because they trusted them. More than half of the survey respondents cited concerns about the cost of obtain breast milk from a formal milk banks, followed by concerns about milk quality and ability to obtain a prescription for breast milk.

Following the study, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP; Itasca, IL, USA) reiterated that it recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age, and to continue breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced. Women who are unable to produce enough milk can supplement infant diets with formula or donor breast milk from formal milk banks. The AAP discouraged the use of informally shared breast milk, due to the potential risk of spreading disease or exposure to medications, alcohol, illegal drugs or other contaminants. The study was presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference, held during October 2019 in New Orleans (LA, USA).

“Not only are our patients unaware of the potential risks that they are undertaking when participating in these informal milk-sharing practices, they are also often not informing their physicians,” said study co-author Ruth Milanaik, DO, of the Northwell Health Cohen Children's Medical Center. “In addition to educating patients, physicians must underscore the importance of discussing these habits with medical professionals so that we have the necessary information to make accurate diagnoses should a medical need arise.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life. Even after the introduction of foods at six months of age, continued breastfeeding is recommended until at least one to two years of age. In reality, only 38% of infants are only breastfed during their first six months of life on a global level; in the United States, only 13% breastfeed until the age of six months. For the mother, short-term benefits include better uterus shrinkage, reduced post-partum depression, and weight loss. Long-term benefits include decreased risk for breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Related Links:
Northwell Health
American Academy of Pediatrics

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