Although you’re of the mindset that a fed baby is a happy baby, you decided during your pregnancy that you would give breastfeeding a go. But once Baby was born, you discovered that nursing isn’t always a no-brainer, and that it doesn’t always come as easily as you might think. As is so often the case, though, you might have other pregnant and new mom friends who are also in the throes of no sleep and incessant feedings. So if one of them offers to help feed your baby, you and your partner might ask yourselves, “Should you let another person breastfeed your baby?” Even though it might seem safe, there is so much to consider.
Why Would Someone Let Another Person Breastfeed Their Baby?
Breastfeeding someone else’s baby other than your own is not a new concept. In fact, it’s been practiced for centuries, according to Jada Shapiro, CLSC, a doula and founder of boober. “Cross-nursing has been happening for millennia across communities,” explains Shapiro. “Sometimes a lactating parent is not making enough milk for their baby, but still wants their baby to both receive breastmilk and experience nursing, is temporarily sick, is taking a temporary medication which is not compatible with lactation, is away from the baby for a short or extended period of time, etc.” There are other extreme situations (like the pandemic) where formula feeding might no longer be an option and breastfeeding becomes a very viable alternative.
Is It Safe To Let Someone Else Breastfeed Your Baby?
As you’re contemplating whether to allow your baby to be fed by another person, the biggest concern is probably this: is it safe to let someone else breastfeed your baby? “The American Academy of Pediatrics and the NIH do not recommend cross nursing due to potential infectious disease exposure,” Shoshanna Levine, IBCLC, a Brooklyn based lactation consultant says. And this is the reason why: three viruses (CMV, HIV, and HTLV-I) can cause either infection or disease and can be found in breast milk transmission, according to a PubMed study.
That said, if you’re sure of the safety of the breast milk, you could allow another person to breastfeed your baby. “Typically, in co-feeding, or co-nursing relationships, the breastmilk donor is well known to the parent – usually family or a friend,” says Chrisie Rosenthal, an IBCLC and Consultant Relations Manager with The Lactation Network! “It can be safe for both the donor and the baby, as long as precautions are taken.”
Does The Baby’s Age Matter If You Let Another Person Breastfeed Them?
Just because you decide to let another person to breastfeed your baby doesn’t mean that it’s an automatic milk match. “The baby’s age can be a factor for some, and not for others,” says Rosenthal. “Some babies may be more sensitive to a faster or slower flow, or they may be sensitive to the taste of the donor milk.”
Levine agrees, adding: “A woman’s breast milk adjust with her baby’s age and similarly a babies nutritional needs adjust as she or he grows. When someone breastfeeds a baby that is not their own the milk may not match the baby’s age and may therefore not meet caloric needs.”
Here’s What You Need To Know If You Let Someone Else Breastfeed Your Baby
If your letdown is, well, a letdown, you might want to consider cross-nursing. But before you do it, it’s a good idea to explore other options first, Levine says. “This is a very personal decision, and I would recommend discussing it your child’s pediatrician first,” she says. “Make yourself familiar with all feeding options available to you- donor breast milk which been pasteurized and is free of any harmful bacteria and viruses, SNS (supplemental nursing systems) and low fructose and organic formula should all be considered as well.”
No matter how close you are to the donor, it’s highly advisable to suggest they get screened before you move forward with a feeding. “It’s recommended that the donor have a medical screening, ruling out illnesses that might pose harm to the baby, and that baby be evaluated for potential concerns like thrush which could be passed to the donor,” says Rosenthal. “Both donor and baby should be HIV negative, and the donor should not be talking medication or drugs that could be harmful to the baby.”
What Are Some Alternatives To Letting Another Person Breastfeed Your Baby?
Before committing to donor milk, it’s important to explore all the options available to you and your baby — such as a supplemental nursing system. “A SNS (supplemental nursing system) is an excellent option for a mother who is not producing breast milk but would like her child to experience the activity of breastfeeding,” Levine explains. “The SNS is a small tube connected to a bag of either breast milk or formula, and the other end of the tube is taped to mom’s chest and placed into Baby’s mouth. As the milk flows baby stays latch to the breast even though most of the milk is coming primarily from the tube system.”
“If you are exploring co-feeding because you have low supply, reach out to an IBCLC to discuss your supply,” Rosenthal adds. “Pumped donor milk, pasteurized donor milk, and formula are all alternatives to co-feeding.”
Although milk sharing can have many benefits, (such as antibodies and nutritional components in breast milk that are not present in formula), it doesn’t come without its own share of health-related risks as well. Speak with your child’s pediatrician before cross-nursing to ensure that you make the best decision for your baby’s nutritional (and health) needs.
Lawrence, R., Lawrence, R. (2004) Breast milk and infection
Jada Shapiro, CLSC, a doula and founder of boober
Shoshanna Levine, IBCLC, a Brooklyn based lactation consultant
Chrisie Rosenthal, an IBCLC and Consultant Relations Manager with The Lactation Network