…and how to handle negative comments from those who are misinformed about milksharing. Here’s something I wrote for Modern Milksharing, who will be debuting their new website sometime in December.
As a recipient of donor milk, I have had a variety of reactions when I tell people that I wasn’t able to breastfeed and instead give my son other mommas’ milk. Some folks think it’s wonderful, and generally have a story about a family member who once wet-nursed another mother’s baby; other people seem totally grossed out or worried about the concept, typically whispering the phrase “but isn’t that dangerous?” with wide-eyed disbelief.
Okay, so let’s take a look at the risks/benefits of using formula vs the risks/benefits of using donor breast milk, as noted by PhD in Parenting. The risks of using formula include: a higher susceptibility to bacteria and disease, a wider variety of health issues (such as ear infections, eczema, lower respiratory tract illnesses, diabetes, milk protein sensitivities, etc), possibility of contamination during the manufacturing process (despite regulations, hence recalls), possibility of contamination due to improper preparation and handling at home… and that’s just the start. As for the benefits of using formula, I can only think of two: it is widely accessible in stores, and it is a regulated substance that is required to comply to certain guidelines.
Now, let’s take a look at the risks of informal milksharing. As many people worry, there is a risk of transmission of HIV via breastmilk; however, “according to the CDC: the risk of HIV transmission is believed to be low, because mothers who are aware of being HIV positive in the United States are advised not to breastfeed their own infants.” This is recommended to mothers who are affected by other communicable illnesses. Also, according to the CDC, “chemicals present in breast milk act, together with time and cold temperatures, to destroy the HIV present in expressed breast milk,” and “transmission of HIV from single breast milk exposure has never been documented.” Research by the University of California shows that flash heating can destroy the HIV in breast milk. Another risk may be that there are no strict guidelines as to what the donor mother is consuming. However, generally, mothers who are taking medications that are not nursing-compatible will not be breastfeeding their own children, and thus, would not be donating breast milk! A third risk could be improper handling of breastmilk and/or breast pump hygiene. These risks can be reduced by full disclosure and getting to know the mother (and even other family members) who you are receiving milk from. The supposed benefits of using formula are definitely outshone by the benefits of informal milksharing: babies are given access to human milk (the most natural food designed to meet babies’ nutritional needs), premature babies and immuno-compromised newborns are not exposed to the risks of infant formula (especially beneficial for mothers who need donor milk temporarily while building their supply), and of course, families save money by not needing to purchase extremely expensive formula (even more expensive if medical-grade formula is needed).
So, let’s just take a look at these risks/benefits. When we do that, we are able to confront the well-intentioned concern of others who recommend you use formula instead of informal milksharing. Although both formula and milksharing have their risks, it’s important to note that the risks of informal milksharing can be significantly diminished or even removed through diligence of the recipient; however, the risks of formula are ever-present. No matter what precautions and regulations are used, formula will always have risks of future health issues.
When a family member or friend says something negative about your choice to feed your child donor breast milk, you have two options- you can either ignore what they say (typically what you’d do if this is an acquaintance or distant friends/family member), or you can inform them of the risks of formula vs informal milksharing. Sometimes people are just so “freaked out” by the thought of another woman feeding your baby that they don’t really think before they speak. Well that’s okay, because the best way to educate someone is by giving them the facts in a kind and informative way!
However, if this person is still not swayed by all of this information, don’t allow their negativity to bring you down. In my own personal experience, I have had several very intelligent, well-educated family members and friends still condemn my family’s feeding choice. This is typically due to social and cultural notions that are so deeply ingrained in their minds that they cannot accept something new. In fact, let us all remember that wet-nursing (the action of a mother nursing a baby that is not her own) is a way mothers who have been unable to breastfeed have been feeding their children for centuries!
At any rate, I hope by providing this information, you are able to explain to others your choice to feed your baby donor breast milk. It is the natural and normal nutrition for your child, and there is never a reason to be ashamed by your decision!