Kathryn Powley of the Herald Sun writes that hundreds of Victorian women have donated breast milk so other mums never have to feed their babies artificial formula.
But health officials are warning of potential risks of informal breast milk sharing.
Cranbourne mum Kim Pennell bought a special deep freezer and started stocking it with donated breast milk ahead of the birth four weeks ago of daughter Lucy.
Little Lucy is thriving on other mother’s milk sourced through a 1450-member Victorian Facebook group that is part of an international movement called “Human Milk 4 Human Babies”.
Ms Pennell, 33, said many donors offered blood tests to show they were healthy. But she operated on trust.
“You go to the mum’s house, meet her, have a coffee and a good chat. They meet your baby, you meet their baby. If something doesn’t feel right, there’s no obligation to take the milk.”
The mum of four — Hannah-Kate, Zoe, Holly and Lucy — said she had struggled to breastfeed and believed formula had led to Zoe’s cow’s milk protein intolerance and sleep problems. Ms Pennell was some people found breast milk “icky” but it the natural food to give babies.
“Even though these babies aren’t breastfed, they’re getting human milk,” she said.
About six women had donated Lucy’s 100 litres, including Ballarat’s Natalie McGrath, 37, mum to Jessica, 4, and six-month-old Thomas.
Mrs McGrath said she had too much milk for Thomas and, believing breast milk was best, had provided about eight litres to four women.
She knew of women who had donated an impressive 60 litres.
“It’s mums helping mums. It’s a very supportive community out there,” she said.
She was happy to provide blood tests showing she was free of transmittable diseases.
But Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Tim Vainoras said mums accessing informal human milk donations should be aware of potential health risks.
“The milk can be affected by a range of factors,” he said, “including lifestyle habits, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, personal hygiene, as well as correct storage and transportation.”
He said viruses and bacteria could be transmitted through unpasteurised breast milk and there was no guarantee that donated product was safe and suitable for consumption.
Mr Vainora said Mercy Health had a breast milk bank that provided pasteurised donor human milk for their hospitalised sick and premature babies.