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Informal Milk Sharing: What Nurses Need to Know

Martino, Kimberly BS; Spatz, Diane PhD, RN-BC, FAAN

MCN, The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing: November/December 2014 - Volume 39 - Issue 6 - p 369–374
doi: 10.1097/NMC.0000000000000077

Human milk is the ideal food for human infants. However, some infants will be in situations wherein there is insufficient human milk to meet their needs. This article addresses formal breast milk donation (donor milk) and informal sharing of breast milk. Healthcare providers are likely to encounter families who access milk by informal breast milk sharing or cross-nursing. Both practices rely heavily on receiving human milk from women who are potentially unscreened for disease, medication, and illicit substances. Therefore, it is important for perinatal nurses to have adequate information to be able to inform these families of the risks and benefits of breast milk sharing. Two case exemplars are provided to illustrate the nuances of informal milk sharing. Implications for practice include providing families with information on health history and laboratory screening as well as safe milk-handling practices.

Informal breast milk sharing is occurring outside the hospital setting. Perinatal nurses need to know the risks and benefits so they can be helpful to women and their families who are considering milk sharing.

Kimberly Martino is a BSN student, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. She can be reached via e-mail at

Diane Spatz is a Professor of Perinatal Nursing and Helen M. Shearer Term Professor of Nutrition, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.

The authors declare no conflict of interest financial, institutional, or otherwise.

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.