Alison Thewliss, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding and Inequalities, has urged the UK Government to offer guidance on milk sharing – a practice that thousands of women are already participating in through online networks across the country.
Milk sharing has become an increasingly popular method for mothers to get access to breastmilk for their babies, particularly amongst those who have encountered difficulties when breastfeeding.
The sharing of breastmilk online is unregulated and some experts are concerned that without NHS supervision or Government guidance, there is a chance that the practice could spread infection and viruses.
Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:
“There is a growing recognition of the unique qualities of breastmilk, and the growth of milk sharing online is to some degree a symptom of this. It is important that milk donors are following best practice to ensure breastmilk is free from any contaminants, but this will always have a degree of uncertainty when people are sharing milk online.
“Milk banks provide safe and rigorously screened donor breastmilk for those babies who need it. The model used by One Milk Bank for Scotland ensures that breastmilk can be collected from donors, processed and distributed using a well-developed network, and I would like to see this available across the rest of the UK. At the moment, milk banks are often underfunded and running as a project of individual hospitals.
“This also sits in the context of cuts to breastfeeding support projects – Unicef Baby Friendly highlighted recently that local infant feeding leads in England had reported a 47% cut in support groups, and a 58% cut in health visitors. Women who wish to breastfeed can find themselves without the valuable support and expertise they need, and may turn to online donors as an alternative to their own milk.
“I am keen for the UK Government to work with the UK Association of Milk Banks to invest in services to allow those wishing to donate breastmilk to be able to do so locally, in a safe and regulated way, and for those requiring breastmilk for their babies to be able to access it easily. I have asked to meet with Ministers to discuss how breastmilk can be shared safely.”