Women have been nursing their children since the dawn of time but a new way of sharing breast milk is taking full advantage of the technology available in the 21st century.
Online resources, such as EatsonFeets.org and OnlytheBreast.com, are making it easier for women who are producing too much milk to make their milk available to others in need.
It's an idea that Beckley, W.Va., resident Michelle Keller wishes had been around 15 years ago when she was breastfeeding her sons.
"I had an enormous amount of milk and it enabled me to be able to work full time and stock up to take to my baby sitter," she said.
"I think it would be a great opportunity to be able to help those that are less fortunate as far as the baby getting the nutrition they need."
However, Keller said that she feels there is a lot more to be considered than simply pumping and shipping the excess milk.
Clinical uses of donor milk
-?Nutritional use: Prematurity, malabsorbtion syndromes, renal failure, inborn errors of metabolism, cardiac problems, pediatric burn cases, failure to thrive, short-gut syndrome, feeding intolerance, post-surgical, bronchopulmonary dysplasia
-?Medicinal/therapeutic uses: Treatment for infectious diseases, intractable diarrhea, gastroententis, infantile botulism, sepsis, pneumonia, hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, post-surgical healing, omphalocele, gastroschisis, intestinal obstruction/bowel fistula, colostomy repair, immunodeficiency diseases, severe allergies, IgA dificiencies, solid organ transplants (including adults), non-infectious intestinal disorders, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome
-?Preventative uses: Necrotizing enterocolitis, during immune suppression therapy, allergies, Crohn's disease, colitis, feeding intolerance
-?Breastfeeding can save money
- Physical contact is important for infant development
-?Breastfeeding can benefit the mother, lowering risk of Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.
During an emergency:
-?Breastfeeding protects babies from the risks of a contaminated water supply.
-?Breastfeeding can help protect against respiratory illnesses and diarrhea. These diseases can be fatal in populations displaced by disaster.
-?Breast milk is the right temperature for babies and helps to prevent hypothermia, when the body temperature drops too low.
-?Breast milk is readily available without needing other supplies.
"I think a woman's milk is specifically designed for that baby," she said.
"For instance, when I was nursing my oldest, I got pregnant again when he was 9 months old. Around the fourth month of pregnancy, my formula changed and when I was feeding the oldest, he made the worst face because it tasted different ... then my milk dried up at the fifth month."
The Food and Drug Administration is warning mothers that informal online breast milk sharing might actually do more than leave a bad taste in the baby's mouth.
The warning issued in November said that in cases where milk is acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet," the donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk" and that "it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby."
Sam Doak, of Marietta, is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and a registered nurse who has counseled several area women in the benefits of breastfeeding.
She said that she has been aware of informal breast milk sharing for quite a while as a former contact person for the local chapter of La Leche League.
"The La Leche League says that human milk from the mom is still the best option followed by milk expressed by the mom, human milk from another mother and then formula," she explained.
"But there is no financial reward for women who share their milk. The one who benefits is the baby."
The FDA recommends using sources, such as the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which tests, screens and questions each donor.
Some specific guidelines, such as being a non-smoker, must be met and a processing fee is often charged.
There is also often a cost involved in purchasing the milk, which might prove a hardship for some women.
Cases in which donor milk might be needed include mothers with HIV who cannot feed their babies, adoptive mothers and/or fathers, cases where a child might have a defect such as a cleft palette or other instances where a mother is unable to breastfeed.
Websites like EatsonFeets.org, which uses the social networking site, Facebook, seemingly make it easier to connect mothers in need with donors in their area, at little or no cost.
Doak advises, however, that women ultimately need to be aware of any possible risks and need to be informed enough to make their own decisions.
"Each woman has to look at the situation she is in and to choose the best option," she said.