Chapel Hill News

UNC pediatrician: It’s risky for a woman other than the mother to breastfeed a baby

When it comes to mother’s milk, a baby’s own mother’s milk is usually safest, a UNC-Chapel Hill expert says.

Police in Carrboro continue to investigate whether a daycare worker at the Carrboro Early School broke the law when she allegedly breastfed a coworker’s baby without the mother’s OK. No charges had been filed as of Thursday morning, Capt Chris Atack said.

But even if such incidents aren’t crimes, they can be risky.

And the potential for problems has grown with the popularity of online milk sales, peer-to-peer milk sharing and the consumption of human milk by some foodies, fitness fanatics and fetishists.

“Human milk is a living substance that’s sort of tailored to each mom and baby,” said Dr. Carl Seashore, a professor of pediatrics at UNC.

Seashore said he could not comment on a situation without knowing the details, but when a baby is breastfed by someone other than the mother “the potential is absolutely there that would be harmful.”

Possible problems from feeding a baby another woman’s breast milk could range from an upset stomach to a lifelong infection such as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, he said.

“It’s not something without risk,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises women to consult their doctor before feeding their baby human milk from someone other than the mother. It recommends against acquiring milk from other individuals and the Internet.

In addition to infectious diseases, risks include passing on unsafe levels of harmful substances like caffeine, nicotine and THC, a fat soluble component of marijuana that concentrates in breast milk, giving the baby “a super dose,” Seashore said.

If the milk has not been properly handled and stored, it could also be contaminated and unsafe to drink.

A 2015 study in the journal Pediatrics found that what’s labeled human milk is sometimes a mix of human and cow’s milk, posing risks to babies with allergies or intolerance to cow’s milk.

That same year the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine said human breast milk has become known as a “super food” in some circles, with men even turning to it to bulk up or help with erectile dysfunction.

“Such purported benefits do not stand up clinically, however,” the journal reported.

If women do want to give their baby breast milk from someone else, Seashore advised they use a certified milk bank like WakeMed Mothers’ Milk Bank in Raleigh, which screens and processes the milk for safety.

For women who want to breastfeed, guidelines recommend breastfeeding for a baby’s first six months and then adding food and breastfeeding for as long as the mother and baby are happy, he said

Despite the benefits of mother’s milk, breastfeeding remains a personal decision, Seashore said.

“Many of us in pediatrics and midwifery really spend a lot of time advocating the importance of breastfeeding,” he said. “We’re in a ‘breast is best’ milieu right now, but it’s not a 100 percent dogmatic approach that’s meant to cast ill on someone who chooses other than that.”

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