Women have been sharing their milk (mainly by direct breastfeeding another baby) since time began. If mother died in childbirth or for whatever reason could not provide milk to her infant, her sister or aunt or someone in the village stepped up and fed the baby. That's just what you did for survival.
I can write a LOT about the history of this topic, but for this post I just want you to know milk from another lactating person (donor milk) can be a viable option for your baby. It takes a lot of talking and education to do it in the safest way possible, but it CAN be done. (see links lower down)
With guidance and education, families can learn how to safely obtain, store, and use donor human milk. It just takes conversations with our donors and our healthcare professionals (lactation consultants, pediatricians, family physicians, dietitians, midwives, etc.) to review the latest science (guidelines, research, etc.) to strike a beautiful balance between the use of human milk from another person and the health and safety of our babies.
What's NOT recommended: buying milk from strangers on the Internet. As you all know, the Internet can be the Wild West (crazy) out there, and unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people who will not be honest with you, will water down the milk with cow's milk to increase their profits, etc. I wish we could trust every single person on the Internet, but we can't; we need to think critically in these situations and know our options.
Just like with sex education, just saying "don't do it" does not really prepare for informed, safe, health-generating behaviors. So it behooves us as a society/healthcare community to be open to having conversations with parents who wish to use donor milk. We need to talk about how to do it safely and what the pros and cons are, and how to make an informed decision. In the end, a person may choose to use infant formula, but at least they have had their questions addressed and their options (both pro and con) laid out there to talk about. Plus, the healthcare provider can take this opportunity to educate about safer powdered formula preparation and storage.
FYI, some scientists did a literature search to look into how many babies have been harmed via breastmilk and donor milk versus powdered infant formula. Here are some takeaways, quotes and references:
"Viable pathogen transmission via breast-feeding or donor milk (pasteurised and unpasteurised) is rare....In powdered infant formula, intrinsic and extrinsic microbial contamination, such as Cronobacter and Salmonella, remain significant identifiable causes of infant morbidity and mortality." (Blackshaw et al, 2021). The rare incidences of transmitted pathogens when using human donor milk is most likely due to the extremely protective composition of human milk and the protection it offers the lining of the infant's gut (making it so hard for the pathogen to enter the bloodstream where it can cause illness). Mother Nature is a badass pathogen gatekeeper indeed!
In a perfect world: "A better system of safe donor milk sharing that also establishes security of supply for non-hospitalised healthy infants in need of breast milk would reduce the reliance on powdered infant formula." (Blackshaw et al, 2021). If you want to explore donor milk reach out to your healthcare provider and/or schedule a Zoom or a phone call with me to talk over your history, your options, and a safer supplementation plan moving forward. https://www.babybelovedinc.com/book-online
References & Resources:
Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. Retrieved from https://abm.memberclicks.net/assets/DOCUMENTS/ABM's%202017%20Position%20Statement%20on%20Informal%20Breast%20Milk%20Sharing%20for%20the%20Term%20Healthy%20Infant.pdf
American Academy of Pediatrics Statement on Safe Donor Milk
Blackshaw, K., Valtchev, P., Koolaji, N., Berry, N., Schindeler, A., Dehghani, F., & Banati, R. (2021). The risk of infectious pathogens in breast-feeding, donated human milk and breast milk substitutes. Public Health Nutrition, 24(7), 1725-1740. doi:10.1017/S1368980020000555
Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol on Milk Sharing
Four Pillars of Safe Milk Sharing by Eats on Feets. Retrieved from https://www.eatsonfeets.org/docs/the_complete_four_pillars_of_safe_breast_milk_sharing.pdf