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  1. ITV Report

Mothers who can’t breastfeed are trading breast milk on social media

Mothers who struggle to breastfeed their children are finding donors on social media.

Informal milk sharing, as it's known, is a growing trend - with one group boasting more than 18,000 members.

In these groups, women who require extra breast milk can ask for support from other mothers who have surplus milk.

But it's not regulated, and women can only use their judgement as to whether the milk they are feeding their baby is safe.

Rebecca Poole uses a milk donor for her son, Theo. She says she wished she'd have known about informal milk sharing earlier. Credit: ITV Central

Rebecca Poole started using a milk donor because she wasn't producing enough to feed her son, Theo.

The mother-of-two, who is from Wolverhampton, didn't want to use formula and stumbled across a milk sharing group after a quick online search.

Unlike on some websites where women charge for the milk (one woman advertised 250ml of breast milk for £2.50), Rebecca doesn't exchange any money with her donor.

I put out a call for help [online] and there were mums offering milk and there were mums exchanging milk.

I asked my donor if there was anything I needed to worry about regarding infectious diseases.

She told me she donates to neonatal milk banks and supports one other baby so I knew in myself she'd had the screening that was necessary to be 100% sure.

– Rebecca Poole
There are 17 milk banks in the UK, which are used to help sick and premature babies. Credit: ITV Central

As with Rebecca's donor, some women who choose to donate their milk via social media also donate to neonatal milk banks.

There are 17 of these milk banks in the UK, including one at Birmingham Women's and Children's Hospital.

Gemma Holder, who works at the milk bank, says the biggest risk for parents who use informal milk donors is how the milk is stored.

There is a theoretical risk that infections can be transmitted via the milk.

Because it is a body fluid, we treat it in the same way as we would blood.

We screen the donors very carefully and we also screen the milk itself to make sure there isn't an increased bacteria content.

Bacterial growth within the milk itself is particularly dangerous to babies. It can cause really serious life-threatening infections.

We give all donors strict guidelines on how they wash their hands, how the milk should be collected and how it should be stored.

– Gemma Holder

At the minute, milk banks are used for sick and premature babies.

But Rebecca would like to see more milk banks for mothers who are struggling to breastfeed their baby.

I would like to see a milk bank with safety checks in place. Maybe some more screening, for example, to make sure the mothers were 100% happy.

– Rebecca Poole
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