Sharing is Caring - Donor Milk Sharing in Communities and Clinics
You may have noticed the topic of ‘donor milk’ pop up in your news feed while scrolling through your socials. If you are yet to give birth to your first baby, or you are not familiar with contemporary milk sharing practices, you might find the whole concept a bit…weird. And you could be forgiven for thinking that way, as there is a certain degree of stigma attached to human milk donation. This is mainly due to the fact that we exist in culture which has normalised animal milk consumption, the use of infant formula, and the sexualisation of women’s breasts.
In previous generations and diverse cultures, it has been (and still is) normal for breastfeeding to be shared between more people than just a mother and her baby. Before the invention of infant formula and bottle feeding in the latter half of the 19th century ‘wet nursing’ (breastfeeding another woman’s baby) was not only common practice, but a form of employment for women of lower social class. By the 1920’s, wet nursing as a profession was basically non-existent, although informal wet nursing was still taking place long after this. The availability of breast pumps and refrigeration means that women nowadays are able to share their expressed breastmilk, while social media has provided a platform to raise awareness about this practice and to make human donor milk more widely accessible.
Although infant formula is a suitable alternative to breast milk when breast milk is not accessible, evidence-based research has shown that babies who are exclusively given formula don’t develop optimal gut health as breastfed babies do, which has implications on their immune systems and lifelong health. The World Health Organisation and the Australian Breastfeeding Association acknowledge that the breastmilk of another woman is the next best option if a woman cannot breastfeed her baby herself. Breastmilk is particularly important for babies who are born prematurely, as they are more vulnerable to illness and infection than babies who are born at term. Premature babies who are exclusively (or almost exclusively) fed breast milk have significantly lower intestinal permeability than babies who are fed infant formula. Breastmilk helps to seal the immature gut of preemie babies, meaning fewer disease-causing particles are able to penetrate the lining of the intestines and enter the bloodstream. The more breastmilk a premature baby receives, the lower their risk of disease.
As research continues to provide us with compelling information about the benefits of breast milk, many mothers who are unable to provide their babies with their own milk are now turning to social media to source breastmilk for their babies. Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets are two Facebook accounts that have created global communities where mothers donating their excess breastmilk can connect with mother’s seeking breastmilk for their babies. As both of the sites act only as the ‘middle-man’, facilitating the sharing of milk in communities, there are important considerations to be taken when accessing donated breastmilk to feed to your baby through these avenues: -
- Donors have not undertaken any screening processes (this can be arranged privately between parties)
- Some infectious diseases can be passed through breastmilk
- Donors may have undesirable lifestyle habits (i.e. alcohol and caffeine consumption)
- There is a possibility of contamination of milk through incorrect storage or transportation techniques
Two of our valued Boobie Bikkies customer have shared their stories of milk donation with us. Rose told us how after losing her twins at 6 months gestation, she expressed for 18 months to maintain her milk supply and donated her expressed breast milk to a maternity ward in her city. Natasha told us how while breastfeeding twins she was able to share her milk with members of her family and friends, as well as donating five litres of her expressed milk to other mothers in need. You can read their full stories on our Testimonials page at this link.
In 2011, The Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank was established in Victoria, Australia. The Breastmilk Bank collects, pasteurises and stores donated breastmilk from eligible mothers, then distributes it to premature and/or sick babies in the NICU and Special Care Nursery at the Mercy Hospital for Women. There are strict regulations around who can donate their breastmilk to the Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank. If you are interested in donating breastmilk to the Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank in Victoria, Australia, you can check your eligibility here: In 2018, The Australian Red Cross launched the Blood Service Milk Bank, which accepts donations from breastfeeding mothers and pasteurises and distributes it to NICU’s in South Australia. If you are interested in donating breastmilk to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service Milk Bank, and you live in Adelaide, SA, you can call 1300 459 040 or visit the website
Emily Brittingham is a mother of three beautful young children and an IBCLC Lactation Consultant. She has a Bachelor of Science (Health Sciences) degree and runs a Melbourne Based Lactation practice - see her website here