Breastfeeding another mother's baby?

Want to breastfeed your baby but can't? There are alternatives to consider but like with any thing new, caution in application must be applied. Read on for guidelines on milk sharing and more.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and various other medical organisations recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months. Breastfeeding is good for babies but it is also highly beneficial for mothers. Experts say that breast milk is the ultimate source of nutrition for babies. Its components help protect babies against infection and diseases. Nutrients found in breast milk such as protein, calcium and iron are more easily absorbed by a baby’s body than those found in infant formula.

As a bonus, there are plenty of advantages for mothers when breastfeeding. The practice helps mothers recover from childbirth quickly and it also prevents the occurrence of either ovarian or breast cancer. More importantly, it brings a mother closer to her baby. However, there are many women who wish to breastfeed their babies but can’t do so because of their inability to produce milk. Those who want to avoid giving their babies infant formula because of its inadequacies, really have little choice but to use donated breast milk.

Wet nursing and breastfeeding

Wet nursing, the practice of nursing another woman’s baby, was once a profitable way for women to earn a living. However, with the invention of infant formula and technological advancements that help ‘milk-less’ mothers produce milk, wet nurses eventually disappeared. Doctors who were aware of the amazing properties of human milk found a new way to provide breast milk to sick babies and children. Milk banks were introduced to the public.

In the early part of the twentieth century, unwed mothers were hired to feed sick babies whose mothers were unable to provide milk for them. These milk donors continued to breastfeed their children so that they could continue to produce milk. They were screened for diseases through a rigid set of physical examinations. Now, mothers who wish to donate milk have to go through a series of tests, more comprehensive than the previous ones, to ensure that they are qualified to give milk.

Donated milk is stored in milk banks. However, milk banks only dispense milk to those who have prescriptions, and they can be very expensive. We know for a fact that mothers want their children to have the best in nutrition. So what can these women do if  they can’t produce milk and milk banks are too expensive ?

Here’s where this quick rising trend called “milk sharing” comes into play. Milk sharing serves as a solution for mothers who cannot breastfeed. Many mothers who have an abundance of breast milk are more than willing to share their milk. They advertise their excess milk in internet forums. Some just find it a waste to throw the milk away and so offer to share their milk to earn a quick buck.

There is also evidence that milk sharing happens between friends and neighbours–this is called ‘cross-sharing’. However, a lot of individuals and organisations are against unrestricted milk sharing because of the various risks involved in this practice. So before you start sharing milk with anyone, try taking into consideration several factors concerning this practice.

Advantages of milk sharing

If a mother cannot produce milk, her baby can still benefit from all the components of breast milk through milk sharing. Donor milk will still be easily absorbed by her baby’s body because human milk is species-specific. Donated milk can still protect a baby from diseases. It can also be therapeutic for babies suffering from food intolerance, children with tissue and organ damage, and children recovering from illnesses. Even our local celeb mum Zoe Tay did it!

It can also help premature babies who are on the brink of death. Mothers who are too weak or unable to breastfeed their babies can expect donor milk to cater to the medicinal and nutritional needs of their babies.

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Milk sharing – Yes or No?

Risks of casual milk sharing

Medical experts do not advise mothers to casually share milk because of the risks involved with the practice. A lot of viruses can be transmitted through breastfeeding such as HIV and Hepatitis B. New strains of bacteria can also be passed on to babies through milk sharing.

While mothers may think it safe to share milk with close friends or family members, medical experts frown on the idea. “A lot of diseases do not show symptoms. So someone who is considered safe may not really be safe. Can you imagine the shock that could arise if a baby becomes ill because of an unknown disease that was transmitted from a close friend or family member?,” asks Kiran Singh, a nutritionist.

Safe ways to share breast milk

If you have an abundant supply of milk and would like to become a milk donor, then you have to make sure that you are in good health. You will have to go through screening at a regulated milk bank. Screening is usually done in two stages.

First, a potential milk donor will have to fill out a questionnaire that will ask her to show details of her medical history. A donor may not be allowed to donate milk for a variety of reasons some of which include blood transfusion within the last twelve months, organ or tissue transplant within the last twelve months, use of illegal drugs, use of prescription drugs, smoking, history of hepatitis or chronic infections, and the drinking of hard liquor 24 hours prior to donating.

If a potential donor passes the first stage of screening, then she proceeds to the second stage where she has to go through blood tests.

In Singapore though, there isn’t an official milk bank. However, mummies who are keen to donate or receive donated breastmilk can visit Human Milk 4 Human Babies – Singapore.

It’s your decision

Milk sharing with close friends or family is not necessarily safer than doing it with a stranger. Sometimes, family and friends may not be aware of a disease that they may have or they may be reluctant to reveal things about their medical history. So I think it all goes down to taking precautions.

While breast is best, infant formula isn’t all that bad. So if you were to choose between casual milk sharing and infant formula, then I suggest that you go with the latter. If you really want to give your baby breast milk, then you should go to a regulated milk bank. It may be more expensive than milk from a friend or from an internet forum but it is safer for your baby.

 

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