Milk Sharing: A New (Old) Idea

There has been lots of press lately about the idea of milk sharing, or milk donation: mothers sharing their breast milk with babies who need it. Some people find it disgusting and dangerous, others think it is totally normal and the best thing for a baby who doesn’t have their own mother’s breast milk.


Why would someone need donated breast milk?

Lots of reasons. Some women cannot produce milk on their own. They may be able to make some amount of milk, but not enough to feed their babies. While this can be rare, it is more common than people realize. Other women are able to produce milk initially but lose their supply due to job restrictions, illnesses, or medications. Adopted babies are also beneficiaries of donated milk, as are preemies: it is quite common for the mother of a premature baby to not have enough milk.

How common is milk sharing?

Milk sharing has along history that predates breast pumps and baby formula. Before baby formula (and its precursor, powdered milk) was available, babies who didn’t have enough milk often didn’t make it. In the best case scenario, a family member or other woman would be asked to wet-nurse the baby. Babies who were not related but nursed by the same woman were known as milk siblings, and shared milk kinship. In contemporary Western culture, people may be squeamish about sharing milk, both because of the sexualization of breasts and of the concern of disease transmission through breast milk.

How can I safely share milk?

There should be a high level of openness between the donor and recipient when sharing milk. Most diseases are not transmittable through breast milk, but viruses like HIV are. If you are a milk recipient, ask your donor questions about their HIV status. If you are a donor be open about your medical history, medications you take, and your diet. Some babies are sensitive to dairy or gluten and can only accept milk from a donor who avoids those things as well. Open communication between both parties is very important.

Warning: the FDA and La Leche League warn against milk-sharing, because they feel that no amount of screening can make it safe. As in all things, we believe in informed choice: learn all you can, know the risks and benefits, then choose what’s right for your family.

What about milk banks?

Milk banks are valuable resources that collect, pasteurize, and distribute human milk. The law does not allow donors to be paid for their milk, but the costly process necessitates that recipients pay around $3-$5 per ounce. For a baby who eats the average of 25 ounces a day, that can be up to $875 a week. Human milk from milk banks is often available in the hospital, but may be reserved for premature or sick babies, and insurance will ususally only cover the costs in cases they deem “medically necessary”.

How do I find donors or recipients?

There are two active groups on Facebook connecting donors and recipients: Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets. They both offer a place to post if you have a need or an offer of milk. At this time, Alma is not posting offers or needs because these forums are so active and useful. There are lots of Alma mamas who need milk, and lots of those with extra as well!

Hopefully, this gave you an overview of milk sharing, and some information to spark your curiosity and make you want to learn more about it and figure out if it’s right for you!

Hopefully this gave you an overview