Are Milk-Sharing Networks Safe? Here's What a Study Finds

Is giving your baby breast milk from a milk bank safe? A study looked at the topic—and the answer might surprise you.

Breast Milk Sharing Karunyapas/Shutterstock
If you're hoping to breastfeed your child but can't seem to produce enough milk, you may consider turning to a milk sharing network—and you may be wondering how safe the practice is. A recent study gives us a clearer picture: According to research from the University of Central Florida, peer milk-sharing—though not recommended—tends to be pretty safe.

The study's authors indicate that good hygiene makes the practice much safer, and that participants in these networks are generally very clean. 

These findings are published in Journal of Human Lactation and are based on the observation of 321 non-commercial milk-sharing networks in Florida. Researchers learned more about the safety precautions taken by the networks by determining whether they followed a set of five safety standards. According to the study, milk shouldn't be frozen for more than six months, it should not be kept at room temperature for longer than 8 hours, it needs to be transported on ice, pumping equipment must be sanitized, and officials should wash their hands before handling the milk.  

Their findings weren't exactly ideal: Only 35 percent of the networks used all five safe practices, while over 40 percent followed four out of five of the guidelines. However, every network followed at least two of these guidelines. And an Association of North America milk bank was established in Florida after the assessment was done, and since the organization gives milk donors a thorough set of guidelines, practices may have changed thanks to its presence.

"Peer milk sharing is a growing practice despite warnings from the FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics," study lead author Beatriz Reyes-Foster said in a Science Daily release for the study. "Our findings suggest that parents who engage in these networks are taking precautions to make sure their children don't get sick, and that's not something we knew before this study. But there is room for improvement."

If you're in a situation that requires you to seek out donated breast milk, this research should give you some comfort. But if you're still struggling with milk supply, it may be a good idea to enlist the help of a lactation consultant to help you boost your supply.