Baby with bottle ohocheese/Flickr

The Dangers of the Milk-Sharing Economy

Whether to ensure an infant’s survival following the death or illness of its mother, or as part of a wet-nursing arrangement, sharing breast milk has long been acceptable, if not lifesaving. But, over the last 5-10 years, a new kind of milk-sharing economy has emerged – one that magnifies certain risks to recipient infants.

COLUMBUS – For millennia, infants have sometimes been fed another mother’s breast milk. Whether to ensure the infant’s survival following the death or illness of its own mother, or as part of a wet-nursing arrangement (common for high-status families in some cultures), sharing breast milk has long been acceptable, if not lifesaving. But, over the last 5-10 years, a new kind of Internet-fueled milk-sharing economy has emerged – one that magnifies certain risks to recipient infants.

Numerous websites now exist to connect lactating women with excess milk and mothers who, unable to meet their own child’s needs, are seeking it. In 2011, more than 13,000 women posted on such websites with the intention of providing or obtaining milk, either for free or for payment. Today, that figure has grown to over 55,000.

Moreover, though these websites have so far been most popular in the United States, they are beginning to appear in numerous other countries. And, of course, many more women are probably sharing milk offline with friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

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