Breast Milk Sharing Communities Trend

A new study from three UCF professors in the College of Sciences on sharing breast milk was published in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine.

The study consisted of work by sociocultural anthropology professor Dr. Beatriz Reyes-Foster, and assistant professors of sociology Dr. Shannon K. Carter and Dr. Melanie Sberna Hinojasa.

“I was surprised by the high prevalence of overlap, where women who were donors were also recipients” for their babies, said Reyes-Foster. “And many of them aren’t exchanging milk in containers, they’re cross-nursing.”Baby

Cross-nursing involves breastfeeding someone else’s baby but is different than wet-nursing, which is a professional service.

The medical community has raised concerns about the quality of breast milk found over the Internet.

The study found that the exchange of breast milk among strangers was low in Central Florida and that buying and selling breast milk was a rarity.

“The idea that women are buying milk from strangers over the Internet and having it shipped through the mail was not supported by our study,” said Carter. “The medical community seems to have a perception that women are buying or obtaining breast milk from anyone who will provide it and that they can find on the Internet. We found milk sharing to be a much more complex process, involving friends, friends of friends, and hybrid online/offline communities.”

The study team sent surveys to 18 Central Florida parenting Facebook communities, the Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets Florida webpages, personal web pages and the web pages of 20 professional contacts. There were 392 participants.

Alison Serra, one of the participants from Orange City, had wanted to breastfeed her daughter due to the benefits, but she faced challenges.

“When I struggled to breast feed my daughter myself, I knew that I had to pursue the next best option,” said Serra. “Milk sharing eased the pain of not breast feeding my daughter for as long as I had hoped. I just had to seek out that which I knew was best for my baby.”

Serra’s daughter, Alaina, was breast fed from 2012 to 2014 in an exchange network. Serra is expecting a second child and said she would participate in milk sharing again if needed.

“It was an incredibly positive experience,” she said. “The women who shared milk with my daughter were more than happy to do so and I am so grateful for each of them. This is the power of community and technology and love.”

Addressing safety concerns, Serra said research is important.

“I support milk sharing communities,” she said. “I think research should focus on the safety of the practice, the unknown mechanisms at work in breast milk, and teaching safe handling and storage and donor screening.”

The original story can be found on UCF Today.

FOX 35 Good Day Orlando interviewed Carter, the video segment can be found here.

The research has also been featured on Yahoo! News, Science Daily, and Fit Pregnancy. For a full list of media outlets that have covered the research click here.

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