Mothers experiencing breastfeeding difficulties are turning to social media sites like Facebook to source breastmilk donations from other lactating mothers.
Facebook pages such as Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies are international communities with state-based Australian pages that give advice and guidance to parents engaging in breastmilk sharing.
They also provide a forum for meeting and sharing milk.
The Australian versions of the pages have more than 16,000 followers between them.
RMIT School of Health and Biomedical Sciences lactation consultant and lecturer Jennifer James said the health benefits of breastmilk over formula were part of the reason women were seeking donations.
“Infant formula provides nutrition and that is it; children will grow, but that is it,” Dr James said.
“They don’t develop their gut appropriately, which has implications for their immune system and lifelong health.
“Women increasingly know that, and if they can’t breastfeed themselves, then the next best option is the breastmilk of another woman.”
In Australia it is illegal to buy and sell body parts, including breastmilk, so the online communities do not offer prices on milk exchange.
Queensland mother Marissa Price began seeking donor milk after her breastmilk did not come in until three weeks after the birth of her child.
“When my milk did eventually come in, he was too lazy and wouldn’t latch and work for it from the breast,” Ms Price said.
“My body wouldn’t respond to a pump very well, so that’s when I made the decision to source donor milk.”
Ashleigh Hayes, who lives in New Zealand with her three children, recently reached out on the Queensland Human Milk 4 Human Babies page while on a trip to Australia.
Like Ms Price, she became involved in milk sharing after breastfeeding troubles left her searching the internet for other options.
“I thought there must be something else out there, and I googled and found a Facebook page and never looked back,” Ms Hayes said.
She believed there was a stigma around the practice that prevented women from getting involved.
“There are still mixed emotions about it. Even among my friends, I have friends that think it’s disgusting,” she said.
“People want to keep it private because of the ridicule. We adults put other [animals’] milk in our bodies.
“I would prefer to put a natural milk into my baby’s body than a chemically-formulated one you buy at the supermarket.”