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There are many health benefits to breastfeeding for both the mother and the baby, including prevention of infections and protection against diabetes and some cancers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first year of life.
Some mothers are unable to breastfeed or produce enough breast milk for the baby and may consider using donated breast milk. In a study in this issue of JAMA Pediatrics, researchers tested using pasteurized donor milk as supplements among preterm babies. The research study found that neither negative nor beneficial effects of the use of donor milk were found. For parents who are considering the option of human donor milk, there are some safety concerns and approaches to know.
There are possible health and safety risks to your baby if feeding with human milk from a source other than the baby’s mother. Risks for the baby include exposure to infections (such as human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis, or other viruses) and ingestion of chemical contaminants including prescription drugs or illegal drugs. Further, if human milk is not handled properly, it could, like any type of milk, become contaminated and unsafe to drink.
The US Food and Drug Administration recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly through individuals or via the internet. When human milk is acquired in this way, it is unlikely that the donor was screened for infections or contamination of the milk. In addition, it is unlikely that the milk was handled in a standardized way to reduce safety risks.
If you decide to feed your baby with donor human milk, you should use milk from a source that has screened its milk donors and taken precautions to ensure the milk is safe. There are human milk banks that have processes in place to screen milk donors and to safely collect, process, handle, test, and store milk. Finally, consult your baby’s health care professional. The nutritional needs of each baby depend on factors including the baby’s age and health.
US Food and Drug Administration
Moreno MA. Donor Breast Milk. JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(7):720. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.2540
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