Moms Talk: Is it Safe to Share Breast Milk?

Patch's Mom Council weighs in on the idea of feeding infants breast milk from another woman.

Mothers are using social media sites, such as the Facebook page Human Milk 4 Human Babies—Minnesota, to find or share their breast milk with other mothers.

While the FDA issued a warning against mothers sharing milk via the Internet—stating that the milk was likely not screened properly for diseases and contamination or properly collected and stored—many mothers do so anyway. Many times those who seek breast milk from others believe in its great benefits, but are unable to breast-feed or produce enough milk to sustain their baby.

Patch asked its Moms Council to weigh in on whether or not it was safe in their eyes to share breast milk with other mothers:

Sarah Schweitzer, Richfield/Edina

"As an expectant mom, I understand the benefits of breastfeeding. I also understand that some women cannot for medical reasons, or simply have a difficult time making enough milk. If I find myself unable to breast feed, I would not feel comfortable getting breast milk from someone else and giving it to my baby. The risks of giving my baby untested breast milk from a stranger outweigh the benefits in my opinion. Many babies are given formula from they day they are born and grow up to be healthy, happy kids."

Robin Marty, Fridley

"As the mother of a four month old who loves to eat, I find myself constantly wishing that , both for the sake of convenience and our family budget. The 30 plus ounces of formula Bass eats daily starts to take a toll on the pocket book, and there's nothing worse than the moment of terror when you realize you're away from home without a bottle, and your child could go off like a screaming, starving bomb at any moment.

"I've come to terms with being a formula feeder, and though I would have (and honestly tried to) jump through any hoop to have been able to provide my own milk for my child, the idea of donor milk, well, honestly it makes me pretty uncomfortable.

"Inherently, the risks of donor milk is pretty low, and for women who have premature babies, the immunities provided in milk is the best foot up for healthy growth and development. With a system in place for screening donors, there's no reason to worry about any sort of contaminant, and in many ways the milk would be much safer even than formula, which has been known to have some contamination issues of its own.

"The idea of milk from another mother is nothing new. After all, wet nurses are practically the oldest profession there is. Even now you can purchase human breast milk for your child, as Neil Patrick Harris and his partner are doing for one of their twins, although he quips that it "costs more than sushi." It's natural, all the hip stars are doing it, so why do I still feel like somehow it's just...Icky?

"It's pasteurized. It's screened. It's got antibodies that formula just can't replicate.  But given the option, knowing that this would be a permanent issue rather than a short term solution while helping a preemie grow or dealing with a short term health problem of my own that would cause a breast-feeding hiatus, I'd probably still stick with my formula. For one thing, financially it's an even greater burden than what I am already facing.  But for another, I guess the benefits just can't quite outweigh that gross out factor I can't let go of.

"Now, once the genetically modified cows are fully producing, then we may have to talk."

Lisa Buck, Orono

"I breast-fed three of our kids, but never had enough milk to share. I didn't produce enough milk so I had to see a lactation consultant and ultimately decided to supplement with formula. Didn't feel guilty at all, but glad that they were getting some breast milk."

Christina Barberot, St. Louis Park

"I wouldn't do it. I think if you can't or do not want to nurse, go with formula. There are many choices, there is quality control, and it contains vitamins and nutrients. 
Lactation looses it's value if the mother is not ingesting the right foods—and how would you know what the donor had eaten or drank? And there is the whole issue of hind-milk, and the baby gets different nutrients at different stages from breast milk. Nature has a program, and this seems to mess with it. I think formula would be a safer alternative."

Katelynn Metz, Minnetonka Patch Editor

"I would never share breast milk—ever. Let's remember that just as breast milk is made up of all the nutrients from a mom, it's also made up of all the toxins too—like alcohol and junk food. I can't guarantee that a person from whom I get breast milk for my baby hasn't had a bunch of booze, McDonald's or even crack cocaine in the 24 hours before they pump out the breast milk. And without knowing 100 percent that the milk is safe, I think it is foolish and dangerous to give it to your child.

"I wonder if the moms who do this would ever find a stranger on the Internet, then allow this stranger to watch their infant for 24 hours? I bet not. What's the difference here? The fact is that the benefits of breast milk just don't outweigh the risks of feeding your child something that's potentially dangerous. Besides, these days formula has all the vitamins and nutrients that babies need.

"If a mom can't or doesn't want to nurse her child, she should never feel like she's a bad mom for giving the baby formula. In my experience, motherhood has so much room for guilt, why start on day one with nursing? We got the rest of our lives to feel like we let down our kids in some way!"

Do you having something to say on this issue? Tell us in the comments section below.


The goal of the council is to explore topics of interest to moms—and dads— everywhere, then produce informative features for Patch readers, like you. If you’re interested in joining the council, please say so in the comments section below, or send an e-mail to your local Patch editor.

Mrs.Callahan April 07, 2011 at 05:06 PM
Milksharing has benefits and is not without risk, but there is a difference between getting milk from a stranger and giving it straight to your baby (who does that, anyway?) and making an *informed choice* in the matter by interviewing the donor and asking screening questions, requesting blood tests, pasteurizing at home, etc. Formula feeding is most definitely ALSO not without risk, and doesn't have the benefits of human breastmilk. I think it's fine for the Patch's Moms Council to weigh in with their opinion, but I'm sure we'll hear from families--donors and recipients--who can give some perspective to this discussion. Milksharing families aren't "casual" about their arrangements in any sense of the word and wouldn't consider any alternative food for their baby.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) April 07, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Thank you so much for your comments. We were hoping this would spur some discussion and more information could be brought to parents' attention. Anyone who wishes to share their insights on this is greatly appreciated!
Mary April 07, 2011 at 05:28 PM
I find it interesting that people are worried about a mother eating mcdonalds before pumping, but not worried about giving formula that contains HFCS and a lot of chemicals. They also seem to worry about the nutrition from breastmilk changing as the child gets older, but the fact that the formula is always the same doesn't bother them.
Wendy April 07, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Sharing breastmilk has been called "informal" milk sahring or sharing "over the internet" (Heck, isn't the sharing done irl?) But there is nothing informal about informed milk sharing! Parents can do the same and more privately as milk banks do. I say more because getting to know a donor also takes care of things like tobacco and alcohol etc. I also recommend this resource to parents and professionals: www.eatsonfeets.org/#resource I think it has great information! And I agree, formula feeding is not without risk! That is so often overlooked :-(
Mrs. Bourbao April 07, 2011 at 07:14 PM
We live is such a twisted society, wheren our own species' milk is seen as gross, but the milk of another species is seen as normal and acceptable. Using donor milk is perceived as dangerous because the mom could have "had crack cocaine in the 24 hours before pumping". But what has had the cow whose milk was used to make the formula, before pumping ? Hormons ? Antibiotics ? Genetically modified corn, sprinkled with herbicide ? Formula is not as innocent as it is seen. The AAP stated in their annual report last year that it kills about 900 babies a year in the USA. Human milk is the biological norm for human babies. Using donor milk has benefits and risks, and there are solutions to reduce the risks. Using formula has risks too, but no solution to reduce them. In the end, it is up the parents to inform themselves exhaustively, and then make a decision, as long as the decision is not based on inconscient cultural bias but based on real documented information.
Jennifer Trias April 07, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Milk sharing is not for everyone, that's true. Neither is formula. I do wish I had known about milk sharing when my first was born. He didn't have much formula, but I would have preferred him to have breastmilk, even if it was from someone else. I'm sure I could have found someone who was trustworthy and who would have shown me any test results (or have been retested if I asked). It can be risky to share milk, but those risks can be mitigated by researching, talking, developing trust, and by safe handling and at-home pasteurization. Many families have safely shared milk and those who have done so seem happy about the arrangements, from what I have read and heard. I have to say that I think something is wrong in the world when we trust Nestle or some factory halfway around the world over another mom who lives in our community. :/
Mell April 07, 2011 at 07:24 PM
As per the World Health Organization's Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding: "For those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative – expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human-milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute fed with a cup, which is a safer method than a feeding bottle and teat – depends on individual circumstances." Donor milk, whether from a milk bank or a private donation, is recommended by the WHO as an alternative feeding method when a baby can not be fully breastfed by the mother. Banked donor milk and informed milksharing each serves a purpose in the variety of infant feeding options. For many parents the cost and limited availability of banked donor milk (priority goes to premature babies & prescriptions for infants with medical need) makes it an unrealistic choice for the long term. Private milk donation based on informed milk sharing allows parents to choose what they feel is a better option than formula with minimal additional cost. Informed milk sharing can, in many cases, be less expensive than purchasing formula. Social networking is allowing for more parents to find local donors. Some parents may always be uncomfortable with the idea of feeding their child donor milk and that is their prerogative. For many parents who wish to avoid formula the only reasonable option is informed milksharing through private donation.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) April 07, 2011 at 07:27 PM
Ladies, thank you for contributing. This is a great discussion. I myself am not a mother, but my older sister is getting ready to have her first - as many women in the metro may be doing so this is great to have so many different opinions and resource suggestions. Thank you.
J April 07, 2011 at 07:36 PM
J I have used donor milk before, and I will again in a heartbeat. Giving my baby breastmilk for another mother when I could not is one of the most greatest gifts I could give to my child. Formula is not for everyone. My child could not take formula, he is very sensative to it. He was also sensative to soy formula, organic formula and even the special formula for infants who have problems with the regular formula. Since I could not produce enough of my own milk, I turned to other nursing women and it has been nothing but an amazing experience. I plan on returning the favor and donate my breastmilk the next chance I get. Milksharing has been going on for ever in the form of wet nurses, this is nothing new. The internet just allows better access and a bigger range of recieving breastmilk for your baby or child.
Sarah April 07, 2011 at 07:39 PM
Did you even consider the impact this article would have on women who struggle to breastfeed and are considering donor milk? Milk banks charge $1.50-$3.00/ounce and many times need a prescription. Formula has been recalled like crazy lately (hello bug parts?) and some babies just don't tolerate formula. The antecdotal evidence that babies have formula all the time is annoying, especially when scientific evidence and WHO stand by the fact that breast milk is the best option for all babies, even from a donor. That being said, you don't go out and find some random person who is lactating and have them pump into a cup in the back. It's up to parents to ensure the safety of their baby, but you're going to be hard pressed to find a mother(who is breastfeeding her own baby) willing to donate who does "crack" and drinks like a fish. What a ridiculous statement, to imply that as a donor mom, I'm willing to put someone else's AND my own baby at risk. That being said, I fully disclose my eating habits and health history to anyone asking. Yes, I could lie...but why would I? All babies deserve breastmilk - from a human, not a genetically modified cow. Gross!
Annie Martin April 07, 2011 at 08:30 PM
Ladies, if you want official info to get out there, let’s get it out there. Just months ago the FDA released a statement which warned "against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet" because of the danger of infectious diseases and contaminants, including illegal drugs. The statement also said: “Risks for the baby include exposure to infectious diseases, including HIV, to chemical contaminants, such as some illegal drugs, and to a limited number of prescription drugs.” This story (quite obviously to most people reading it especially considering the facebook page mentioned in it) was no-doubt referring to casual breast milk sharing between persons on the internet. Right now federally regulated milk banks currently only exist in California and New York—not here in Minnesota. Sure that crack and alcohol example is extreme, and it’s likely not to the case, but it’s not ridiculous—not ridiculous because it’s not impossible. Formula is not without its flaws, agreed. That said, I would never casually share breast milk and I because of that choice, I may be the only person who’s commented here that is 100% sure my baby wouldn’t get AIDS from the milk she drinks. We all chose to protect our babies differently. In my case, I chose to listen to the country’s leading medical experts and not a bunch of ladies from some facebook page on the internet.
Mrs.Callahan April 07, 2011 at 10:45 PM
The FDA says a lot of things--I agree with some of their advisories, I disagree with others. I appreciate the FDA's work (heck, I'm paying for it) but I don't make my decisions based on what they say, any more than I would decide to purchase a house because HUD tells me to. The advisories are opinions of other people, I choose to live according to my own opinions, developed through extensive, extensive research. I also take full, personal responsibility for those choices, so I make them with utmost care. Are you 100% certain that your baby won't get AIDS from the milk she drinks because she's getting formula? I'm afraid I don't see the connection here--babies who drink formula are exposed to a number of chemicals and contaminants.
Mell April 08, 2011 at 10:33 PM
A good point that was brought up by a friend of mine in discussing HIV/AIDS transmission through breastmilk is that if it truly is as big a risk as implied by the FDA statement then ALL mothers are at risk for transmitting HIV/AIDS to their OWN babies & ALL mothers should be routinely screened for it every 3-6 months. I'm healthy & my lifestyle choices do not put me at risk for HIV/AIDS. I trust my husband & am confident that he is honest with me & his lifestyle choices do not put him at risk for HIV/AIDS. However, none of that guarantees anything, whether I'm a milk donor or not, I could transmit HIV/AIDS via my breastmilk if I contracted it and so could any other lactating woman. Either HIV/AIDS is so scary & potentially dangerous that all pregnant &/or breastfeeding mothers should be tested every 3-6 months OR the FDA is using it as a scare tactic against milk sharing because they know people jump when they hear/read AIDS. Formula potentially containing bug parts, melamine, botulism, etc. from some multi-national conglomerate vs. screened milk donors with whom I can meet personally... I know what I would choose, and yes I do have a child who had some formula and is "just fine" but if I could go back & do it over again... I would find a milk donor instead of formula.
Tiffany May 01, 2012 at 01:43 AM
I am a breastmilk donor. Prior to being approved by Mother's Milk Bank of New England I was phone-screened, then I answered a medical questionnaire for me and one for my baby, then I released our medical records, my doctor and my baby's pediatrician signed off on our health, then they tested my blood. The whole time, they are educating me on how to collect my milk under the most sanitary conditions. Once my milk arrives at the bank they thaw it, test it, homogenize and pasteurize it, combine it with the milk of other moms and test it again. They can test it for contaminants and also for composition - fats and nutrients. It's really impressive. As their website says, in fifty years of milk banking not one baby was ever sickened, many have thrived. I also have advertised on Eats on Feets because I've had so much milk. Most moms just dont wNt to see their precious milk wasted and will give it away for free or in exchange for more breastmilk bags. If I adopted or couldn't produce milk, I would absolutely turn to a bank or a milk sharing site.
Kim October 29, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Kimberly In my case ive actually consulted a lactation expert. He is helping me with my milk supply. Meanwhile searched and tested a mother who has a baby the same weeks as mine.and is being fpllowed up for a strict diet And basicly carefully made my decision to take donated breasrmilk. My baby is now 2 months. And im gonma start giving him my breastmilk...formula is good buy everyone has a right to what is best for your baby. And my baby has never had formula and I refuse to let go of breastmilk. Its done so much good ..
Marguerite Martin November 07, 2013 at 10:54 AM
I pumped the first four months but never made much milk due to HELLP and Preeclampsia issues that I had at his birth, but I give my baby breast milk from two of my close friends who make too much milk and I feel very lucky and grateful that I have the opportunity to do that. He has really received half breastmilk and half formula from the beginning and I think that is one of the reasons that he is a preemie sucess story! He arrived six weeks early but has thrived from day one.


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