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Open Access Highly Accessed Commentary

Milk sharing: from private practice to public pursuit

James E Akre1*, Karleen D Gribble2 and Maureen Minchin3

Author Affiliations

1 Geneva, Switzerland

2 School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, New South Wales, 2751. Australia

3 Geelong, Victoria, Australia

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International Breastfeeding Journal 2011, 6:8  doi:10.1186/1746-4358-6-8

Published: 25 June 2011

Abstract

After only six months, a commerce-free internet-based milk-sharing model is operating in nearly 50 countries, connecting mothers who are able to donate breast milk with the caregivers of babies who need breast milk. Some public health authorities have condemned this initiative out of hand. Although women have always shared their milk, in many settings infant formula has become the "obvious" alternative to a mother's own milk. Yet an internationally endorsed recommendation supports mother-to-mother milk sharing as the best option in place of a birth mother's milk. Why then this rejection? Several possibilities come to mind: 1) ignorance and prejudice surrounding shared breast milk; 2) a perceived challenge to the medical establishment of a system where mothers exercise independent control; and 3) concern that mother-to-mother milk sharing threatens donor milk banks. We are not saying that milk sharing is risk-free or that the internet is an ideal platform for promoting it. Rather, we are encouraging health authorities to examine this initiative closely, determine what is happening, and provide resources to make mother-to-mother milk sharing as safe as possible. Health authorities readily concede that life is fraught with risk; accordingly, they promote risk-reduction and harm-minimisation strategies. Why should it be any different for babies lacking their own mothers' milk? The more that is known about the risks of substituting for breast milk, the more reasonable parental choice to use donor milk becomes. We believe that the level of intrinsic risk is manageable through informed sharing. If undertaken, managed and evaluated appropriately, this made-by-mothers model shows considerable potential for expanding the world's supply of human milk and improving the health of children.