Breast milk sharing is slowly increasing in popularity, according to a survey done by a Christchurch donor breast milk bank.
However, the survey also revealed that while most women were happy to share their breast milk if they had enough to spare, many were less keen to accept the breast milk of another for their own babies.
The topic of breastfeeding always seems to spark controversy, whether it’s breastfeeding in public or shaming mums who opt to bottle feed. However, what has been established is that there is a need for breast milk sharing for vulnerable kiwi infants.
Breast milk sharing has experienced a revival since the opening of Christchurch Hospital Neo Natal Breast Milk Bank in 2014. Prior to the opening, many ICU babies received formula feeding via syringe. Now, with plenty of donated breastmilk available, ICU babies can be fed nutrient-rich breast milk when they are not able to receive it from their mothers.
There is plenty of documentation of wet nursing and cross nursing throughout history; it was common in Ancient Greek civilisations and in Renaissance times being a wet nurse was a very well paid position, with wealthy women opting for wet nurses over nursing their babies themselves so as to not interrupt their social lives or ruin their figures.
These days, breast milk sharing is less of an occupation and more altruistic. For many, the decision to donate breast milk is the result of oversupply and a desire to help those in need. Those seeking breast milk do so for varying reasons and circumstances, from low supply to adoption.
Sharing breast milk is gaining popularity. Since the opening of the Christchurch Hospital Breast-milk Bank, more informal communities like humanmilk4humanbabies and Mothers Milk NZ Charitable trust have been formed, putting those in need of breastmilk in touch with mothers who have some to spare. Mostly the communities communicate via Facebook pages where mothers in need can post a request and mothers with excess can offer their milk.
It is important for mothers to be aware of not only the benefits, but also the risks involved with ad-hoc groups. While the groups may intend the best outcome for babies, the rigorous testing of breast milk required by hospitals cannot be enforced. While all milk for babies in hospital breast milk banks is screened and pasteurised, it is up to those participating in private breastmilk sharing arrangements to ensure the safety of the milk. Requesting blood tests from donors is recommended as is requesting full disclosure of dietary and lifestyle habits that may affect breastmilk.
If you would like to find out more about breastmilk sharing in New Zealand visit:
Human Milk for Human Babies NZ www.facebook.com/hm4hbnz
Piropiro Aotearoa www.facebook.com/milksharingnz
These sites help connect donors and recipients and give guidelines and advice about best practice with milk sharing.
By Alexandra Constantine
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