Experts warn against informal breast milk sharing

LEWISTON, N.Y. (WIVB) — The demand for breast milk has exploded in recent years. Moms are sharing breast milk with sisters, friends and sometimes even strangers.

Mothers want what’s best for babies and often times they want natural breast milk over formula.

“I know it fights against anti bodies and bacteria and dealing with asthma down the road,” Heidi Ingham, a mom from Niagara County, said.

Ingham hasn’t had any problems breast feeding her first daughter Sydney, who’s now 4-months-old.

“I’m very lucky that it just came very naturally. She was able to latch well and she’s really growing and making great gains,” Ingham said.

It’s not the case for all moms. Some can’t produce enough or any milk at all. In those cases, some turn to others to get it. It’s called “informal milk sharing.”

“Most of the time when this is happening I think it’s friends, relatives and sisters. That’s what’s coming to me mostly,” Gina Penque, a lactation consultant at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Niagara County, said. Penque said sharing breast milk isn’t new.

“It’s been going on for a long, long time. Social media has really made it just explode,” she said.

Some women are even buying breast milk online. News 4 found several web sites selling breast milk from anywhere to $2 to $5 an ounce. Penque warns buyer beware, especially when it comes to getting it online.

“First of all I tell parents if there’s any money involved in this [that’s a] red flag,” Penque said.

Penque said another red flag is if the donor wants to be anonymous. She said if a family insists of informal sharing, she suggests developing a relationship with the donor and asking for blood work. Still, it’s not something she recommends.

“I don’t promote it. I don’t really advise it. I just think there’s too much of an unknown there, but I understand it so much,” Penque said.

The FDA also recommends against it. Their web site lists several health risks for babies, including exposure to infectious disease including HIV, and exposure to chemical contaminants, like some illegal drugs and a limited number of prescription drugs. It also warns milk can be contaminated if not store properly.

Penque reminds parents there’s no way of knowing what you’re giving your baby without vetting the donor properly.

There is a safe way to share milk. The New York State milk bank collects pasteurized breast milk from vetted donors. Right now, it’s only available by prescription or for babies in the NIC-U, but Penque is confident that will change in the future.

“I think we’re going to get better and get smarter and soon there’s going to be testing and this will be as common as going to get blood,” Penque said.

While Heidi Ingham has been lucky with breastfeeding so far, she knows if her luck changed in the future, she wouldn’t take those extreme measures without the safe option.

“I want what’s best for my child, however I’m not going to go to such means just to get breast milk online just because. I want to make sure it’s what’s safest for my child,” Ingham said.

 

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