Some parents who have extra breast milk decide to donate it directly to another family in need. This is referred to as milk sharing, and here’s what to think about if you are considering donating or receiving breast milk informally.
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What is milk sharing?
Milk sharing is families sharing breast milk among themselves without going through a milk bank.
Often what this looks like is that one family has extra breast milk, and may not qualify to donate that extra milk to a HMBANA milk bank. (I was in this situation, as I was taking a medication – Zoloft – that is safe for breastfeeding but disqualified me from donating.)
This family may give their extra milk to another family in their community, or they may find someone to donate to on an online milk sharing community.
Common questions for parents interested in receiving shared breast milk
When some parents do not have enough breast milk for their baby, they supplement with donor milk. I asked on Instagram if my followers had received donated breast milk, and below are the responses:
Here are some things to consider if you are interested in receiving breast milk via milk sharing.
Is milk sharing safe?
Eats on Feets has identified four pillars of safe breast milk sharing. These include:
- Informed choice – Is milk sharing a good idea for your family? Do you understand the risks of milk sharing and the potential benefits, as well as the risks and benefits of other infant feeding options?
- Donor screening – Donors with communicable diseases (such as HIV), in poor general health, taking a medication contraindicated for breastfeeding, struggling to meet the needs of their own baby, etc. should self-exclude from milk sharing. Breast milk recipients should communicate with donors about medications and drug and alcohol use. If possible, a blood screening should be performed.
- Safe handling – Breasts should be inspected prior to pumping, and breast pump parts and bottles should be washed properly, and milk should be stored according to breast milk storage guidelines.
- Pasteurization – Some parents prefer to pasteurize shared milk at home, while others prefer to feed raw milk.
It’s a good idea to do some reading about potential risks and benefits of milk sharing. Eats on Feets has a good summary of risks that you can review as a starting point.
How do I find milk that others are willing to share?
Others connected through Eats on Feets or local parenting message boards.
Finally, many people received donated milk from family or friends.
What do I owe the donor?
This is between you and the donor. Some donors want to be compensated for their time pumping milk, while others would prefer to give their milk away.
Many breast milk recipients will replace the breast milk bags that their donor filled and provided to them, so that the donor has no out-of-pocket cost.
Common questions for parents interested in donating breast milk via milk sharing
Many parents with oversupply choose to donate their extra milk. Here is how people responded to the question as to whether they had donated milk:
Is it safe?
As a donor, there are a few things to consider with regard to safety.
- Are you able to meet the needs of both yourself and your own baby if you’re donating your breast milk? (For example, if you’re having to do extra pumping and it’s making you stressed and irritable, consider whether you should continue.)
- Are you donating of your own free will, or are you feeling coerced or obligated to donate?
- Are you concerned about legal exposure if your milk were to potentially make a donor baby sick? (This is unlikely, and it’s never happened to my knowledge, but it’s not impossible.)
How do I find people to donate to?
The resources highlighted above, such as Human Milk for Human Babies, Eats on Feets, or local parenting groups is where I would recommend starting.
What do I owe the recipient?
The primary thing that a breast milk donor owes the recipient is honesty – about any medications you’re taking, any questions that they ask about your lifestyle, etc.
Also, this goes without saying, but watering breast milk down with cow’s milk or anything else to increase the volume could harm the recipient baby and is absolutely unacceptable.
Have you donated or received breast milk via milk sharing? Tell us your experience in the comments!