While breastfeeding is strongly recommended by healthcare professionals and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, concern over the growing movement of sharing and using donated breast milk led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a recommendation statement yesterday with guidelines.
The benefits of breastfeeding are well established. Breast milk is easy to digest and contains antibodies that can protect infants from bacterial and viral infections. Breast-fed babies are less likely to become overweight or obese children or adolescents compared to babies who are exclusively bottle-fed.
Situations such as maternal illness or lack of sufficient maternal breast milk may led parents to look for alternative sources of human breast milk to feed their babies. This can be done safely, but the FDA encourages beginning with a discussion with the baby’s healthcare.
It is important to vet the source of the shared breast milk as there are possible health and safety risks for the baby. These risks include exposure to infectious diseases, including HIV, to chemical contaminants, such as some illegal drugs, and to a limited number of prescription drugs that might be in the human milk, if the donor has not been adequately screened. In addition, as with any type of milk, if it is not handled and stored properly it can become contaminated and unsafe to drink.
FDA recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet. There are human milk banks that take voluntary steps to screen milk donors, and safely collect, process, handle, test, and store the milk.
You can contact your state’s department of health to find out if it has information on human milk banks in your area. Another source of information is the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), a voluntary professional association for human milk banks (http://www.hmbana.org/). HMBANA issues voluntary safety guidelines for member banks on screening donors, and collecting, processing, handling, testing and storing milk.
For more information, read the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.