The sharing of human milk has existed since the beginning of time. Mothers have either breastfed
children who were not biologically related to them or expressed and shared milk with a child other than their own. In early times if a baby did not receive human milk they died as there were no safe alternatives. In more modern times breastmilk substitutes have been developed for those times when a mother is unable or unwilling to breastfeed or provide enough of her breastmilk. So how can we safely give our babies human milk?
What are the risks associated with informal human milk sharing?
Human milk, when shared outside milk banks that follow accepted guidelines, does not provide the same safety guarantees and the possibility of serious adverse consequences cannot be ruled out.
The main risks of sharing milk are that it is contaminated with pathogenic bacteria as a result of suboptimal collection, storage and transportation or that it contains viruses as a result of the mother having unknown infections which may be transmitted via the milk.
These include viral infections such as:
(Human T Lymphotropic Virus). Harmful bacteria ingested in large quantities through breastmilk may lead to Viruses such as HIV and HTLV in breastmilk can cause serious illnesses, some of them manifesting severe infections including septicemia, several years after contamination. Screening of donors, milk testing and appropriate pasteurization, as routinely done in human milk banks, greatly reduces the risks associated with sharing breastmilk. In addition, the shared milk may contain medications taken by the mother as well as alcohol, nicotine, drugs and other contaminants.
Milk banks: Mother’s Milk Bank of Colorado-Website
Breastmilk is especially critical for the healthy survival of very low birth weight, premature and sick infants. Mothers of these infants may be unable to provide sufficient human milk for their needs particularly in the early days following the baby’s birth. Milk banks affiliated with EMBA and HMBANA follow rigorous protocols to screen donors, test, process and dispense the donated milk and to provide safe donor human milk to these infants.
Story about how to donate: click here to watch a video link about donating milk
To be eligible as a milk donor, one must:
- Be confident in her milk supply and produce milk in excess of her own baby’s needs
- Be willing to donate a minimum total of 150 ounces throughout her time as a donor with us
- Not have any medical condition that prohibits her from giving blood
- Be in excellent health without any chronic illnesses or history of major medical issues or cancer, including leukemia
- Have no history of hepatitis after age 11 or positive tuberculosis tests
- Be a non-smoker and refrain from using tobacco or marijuana products of any kind
- Have not received blood or blood products or organ or tissue transplants in the past 12 months
- Have no history of intimate contact with anyone at risk for HIV/AIDS
- Not be taking vitamin supplements that exceed 2000% Daily Value (DV)
- Take only approved medications and herbal supplements/teas. Mothers’ Milk Tea, fenugreek and any lactation support product containing fenugreek or other herbs is NOT compatible with donating.
- Not have any medical condition that prohibits her from giving blood (there are exceptions to this rule – please contact us if this applies to you).
- Consume less than 24 ounces of caffeinated beverages a day (2-3 cups of coffee)
- Wait 12 hours after drinking any alcoholic beverage to collect milk to donate
- Be motivated to practice exceptional hygiene and carry out careful milk collection and storage methods
- Be willing to undergo blood testing
- Be less than 18 months postpartum when collecting the milk
There are some exceptions to these guidelines. If you would like to discuss your eligibility,
Mother’s Milk Bank at 303.869.1888 or toll-free at 877.458.5503.
Information shared by Human Milk Banking Association of North America-
and Mother’s Milk Bank of Denver
Heather Knott, RN-IBCLC