November 3, 2013

Motherlode: Is breast still ‘best’ when it’s another mother’s milk?

Is breast still ‘best’ when it’s another mother’s milk?

By KJ Dell’Antonia

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For research-reading parents, this is a classic case of “Wow, do we need more information,” and that information is surprisingly hard to find and interpret. In the case of the premature infant, the science supporting the use of donor milk is clear. Beyond that, it’s murky, and interpretations are often colored by emotion. As different compounds in human breast milk are shown to be associated with improved baby health, formula manufacturers rush to add them to their products, but there is still much we don’t know about the specifics of the interaction between breast milk and baby.

If you’ve chosen donor milk for a baby, or rejected it, what helped you to make that decision? If you donate, do you choose to give milk to a milk bank, or sell or donate informally? How can science help future parents to make these calls?

An earlier version of this post stated that I “could not find any reported cases of babies sickened by donor breast milk.” A reader has since referred me to this 1977 case of a single donor contaminating 7 babies in a neonatal intensive care unit, which led me to a similar 1979 case. Standards for donation and storage of breast milk in milk banks have changed considerably since then, and I have not found more recent cases, nor have I found any associated with online milk-sharing sites – but coverage of this recent study has made that a particularly difficult area to search. If anyone is aware of any documented case of a baby being sickened from donor breast milk associated with these sites, email me and I’ll follow up.

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