Donor Breast Milk-Friend or Foe?
Many parents are indoctrinated to believe that they have two infant feeding options: breastfeed or formula feed. They assume that if breastfeeding does not work out (for various reasons) that formula would be the second best option.
The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that human milk is the most optimal source of nutrition for a baby for at least the first six months of life. In fact, the AAP agrees that should a mother’s milk not be an option, pasteurized donor breast milk should be given to the infant, followed by protein hydrolysate formula, and lastly, if that is not an option, standard infant formula may be offered.
The debate then is not a question of if formula is less beneficial than breast milk, because it is widely agreed that it is, the discussion is centered around whether or not it is safe for a mother to seek un-screened donor breast milk not from a human milk bank.
Physicians regularly do not recommend a mother acquire breast milk from such venues like Craigslist or Facebook sites such as ‘Human Milk 4 Human Babies’ or ‘Eats on Feets’ (which allows women to advertise breast milk they have available for donation) because you cannot guarantee the breast milk be free from harmful bacteria or dangerous street or prescription drugs. In 2013, a study in Ohio was performed in which 101 samples of breast milk was purchased from Craigslist by multiple sellers and was tested by Dr. Sarah Keim at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. She found that three quarters of the 101 samples were contaminated with high levels of bacteria or with disease-causing bacteria.
Human Milk Banks regularly screen their donors for infectious diseases and drug use, among other things, and also filter out any harmful substances or bacteria via pasteurization. However, not only is breast milk from a milk bank very expensive, premature babies in the NICU get first priority, so it may not be able to be relied on consistently by parents should the milk bank be in temporary short supply.
As a Lactation Consultant, it is important that I present the unbiased facts regarding these tricky subjects to my clients, and allow them to make their own educated decision. Many feel that the benefits of breast milk outweigh the chance their baby contract an illness from un-screened donor milk. Others do not want to take the risk and will resort to formula feeding.
Often times, low milk supply can be remedied by working with an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). There are various herbal supplements and even prescription drugs that can keep a mother exclusively breastfeeding for a long time without the need for any supplementation.
Jenna Bush, IBCLC
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