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Questions to Ask When Considering Using Shared Milk

Woman leaning over freezer filled with milk bags.

You may have seen well-meaning mothers on social media offering up their milk for families who are unable to find adequate amounts of formula. Yes, some grocery stores are struggling to keep up with demands of consumers. Using shared milk might be your best option for feeding your child. Before choosing that option, what do you need to know and what questions should you ask before using shared milk?

How can you find shared milk?

Shared milk or community milk can be found through a variety of places. Eats on Feets, or Human Milk 4 Human Babies. (For more information, listen to my interview with Emma Kwasnica.)

If you are interested in using shared milk, take a look at the local community pages. Often, you’ll see that some mothers are offering up their frozen milk.

Is the mother offering shared milk under the influence?

Ask the shared milk donor if she has been exposed to any drugs or substances. Some medications and drugs, including marijuana, pass through human milk and have an impact on an infant.

Other substances, including herbs, can affect infants. For example, fenugreek which affects blood sugar levels. That may have little impact for a full term, healthy baby, but it can pose a serious threat to those with health conditions.

How was milk stored?

Although less than 6 months is best, milk that has been frozen can be used for up to 12 months after expression. (And beyond. We have no science saying that milk “goes bad” at some point.) Thawed human milk should never be refrozen, and once it is thawed, it should be used within 24 hours.

As we’ve seen recently, some areas have had serious and prolonged power outages. Is the milk still good? Maybe.

If ice crystals are still present, the milk is still considered to be frozen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has milk storage guidelines here

Has the mother recently had any infectious disease?

This is a really tricky question to ask when considering using shared milk. And, the answer may be uninformed, untruthful, or incomplete.

Maybe you ask, “Have you had any infectious condition lately?” Okay, if the mother says “no” that might mean that she hasn’t had any disease. Or, she may have been exposed but has not yet developed symptoms, so she is unaware. Or she knows, but she doesn’t want to say.

And, unless you can name every ailment that you think might be important, this question could totally miss the mark. How many people would consider a cold sore an “infectious condition”? However, a cold sore is a virus, and the virus can shed onto the baby, and it could be fatal to a newborn. Might she have a similar lesion on her chest, too?

If using shared milk is not an option, what can I do?

For one reason or another, using shared milk might not be an option. Can you consider relactation?

Most mothers don’t know that relactation is possible. Whether it’s been a few weeks or a few months, it can be possible to relactate. But, just remember that it may not work for everyone.

Working moms who didn’t want to pump before but are now working from home and able to feed at the breast may be candidates for relactation.

It’s certainly possible to just go ahead and put your baby to breast frequently (at least very 2 hours) and see if you can relactate. But if you want to speed up your success, you might want to find a lactation consultant to help with relactation. More information can be found here.

Have you shared milk, or used shared milk? I’d love to hear about your experiences below!

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  1. Scheryl D

    Marie. I am wondering if you have any thoughts about an adopted newborn who is receiving frozen donor milk that was donated by a friend. The milk ranges in age from 3-10 months old and is the sole source of food for this baby. Is there a concern that there may be a loss of nutrients?

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Hi Sheryl, good question! There are a lot of variables to consider in this situation. I’d want to know more about the conditions under which the milk has been stored, if the baby is full term and healthy (or not) and the known health of the donor. So the short answer is, yes, “loss of nutrients” is always a concern for a newborn, and especially with the “sole source” factor. Is there truly enough milk for it to be a sole source? That, too, would figure in.

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