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La Leche League International does not recommend it. In some circumstances, though, having another woman, such as a friend or relative, feed your baby might be a good option, but there are risks to consider. This nursing arrangement is sometimes called "cross-nursing" or "wet nursing," which means feeding a child who is not biologically yours.
Alternatives include pasteurized pumped breast milk from a friend or relative, banked breast milk, and infant formula. Your baby's doctor can help you decide what's best for your family.
What are the risks of cross-nursing?
- Infectious diseases: Some diseases, such as HIV, can be transmitted through breast milk. Other diseases, such as thrush, can be passed along through physical contact – a yeast infection in the other mom's nipples can cause thrush in your baby's mouth. The other woman might not even know she has a disease that could put your child at risk. In contrast, pumping and pasteurizing (see below) breast milk (at a donor bank or at home) reduces the risk of disease transmission.
- Dangerous substances transmitted through breast milk: The person nursing your baby shouldn't smoke cigarettes or marijuana, use illegal drugs, or take medications or herbal preparations that aren't safe when breastfeeding. Even prescription and over-the-counter drugs could be potentially harmful to your child. Alcohol is also passed along in breast milk.
What about getting breast milk online?
It's just not safe to get breast milk from unvetted sources, in person or online, such as from Internet-based breast milk-sharing sites.
You won't know if the milk has been collected, processed, tested, and stored safely. Donated breast milk should be pasteurized (heat processed to remove potentially harmful viruses and bacteria).
It's also unlikely that the donors or sellers have been properly screened for infectious diseases. One study of milk purchased on the Internet found that most samples contained high levels of bacteria.
What about getting breast milk from someone I know and trust?
Getting pumped breast milk from a reliable friend or family member is an option, as long as you're diligent. Again, you'll want to make sure that the milk is from someone who has been medically screened, who is not taking any medicines or herbs that are incompatible with breastfeeding, and who doesn't smoke, use illegal drugs, or consume alcohol.
You'll also need to practice safe milk handling and storage practices. To remove potentially harmful bacteria and viruses, you'll want to pasteurize (see below) the milk at home before giving it to your baby, for example.
How do I pasteurize breast milk?
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine provides these directions:
- Put up to 5 ounces of milk in an uncovered heatproof glass jar and place the jar in a small pan of water on the stove. The jar should be tall enough that the water can reach about two fingers above the milk level. (If you need more than 5 ounces for your baby's feeding, repeat the process with a second jar.)
- Turn the heat on high. When the water reaches a rolling boil, immediately remove the jar of milk and place it in a pan of cool (not cold) water or on the counter. Cover with a lid or small plate.
- Use the milk at room temperature within six hours, or refrigerate or freeze it.
What are my other options if I can't breastfeed my baby?
- Banked breast milk: Milk banks operate under guidelines from the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. They screen donors for infectious diseases and heat-treat breast milk to eliminate harmful bacteria and other pathogens. You'll need a prescription from your doctor to get breast milk from a milk bank. Keep in mind that many banks have a limited supply and prioritize the most fragile babies.
- Infant formula: If breastfeeding doesn't work for you, infant formula can provide your baby with the nutrition she needs.
Which of these is best for your baby depends on your individual situation. Your baby's doctor can help you weigh the risks, benefits, and costs of each option, including having a friend or relative breastfeed your baby.