Kale Rayment breastfeeds her baby.

Kale Rayment breastfeeds her baby.Credit:Kale Rayment

But when it came to her third child, Mrs Rayment didn’t want her excess milk to go to waste. So she turned to the internet.

What she found was two global communities with a single goal in mind: connecting mothers with an oversupply of breast milk with parents who don’t have enough.

In the past six months, Mrs Rayment has donated a total of 30 litres of her milk to other parents.

“I just bag everything until the end of the month and then I donate it,” she said.

“It’s so easy and it’s really lovely. I’ve often had mums cry [when they receive the milk], they are just so stoked.”

Two of the largest such groups are Human Milk for Human Babies (HM4HB), which has 79,666 likes, and Eats on Feets, with 23,891. Both operate via a system of localised Facebook pages.

Donors are able to post on the page with details about their lifestyle (whether they drink or smoke, their diet and whether they are on any medication), their location, and how much milk they have to give. Parents seeking the milk can then comment on the posts to claim it.

Some of Kale Rayment's breast milk ready for donation.

Some of Kale Rayment’s breast milk ready for donation.Credit:Kale Rayment

Emma Parnell, another HM4HB donor who recently gave birth to twins, is currently waiting to be accepted into the Red Cross milk donation program but said she would still continue to donate to local parents as long as she has enough milk.

“They need it as well, not as much as the NICU babies, but it’s nice for other mums to have that milk who maybe can’t breastfeed themselves,” she said.

“One of the mums has recently asked me about my diet because, apparently, her little boy prefers my milk to hers. It’s been really positive so far.”

Donor Emma Parnell with her twins.

Donor Emma Parnell with her twins.Credit:

As it stands, existing milk banks will only supply to NICUs, not to parents of healthy babies who believe breast milk is superior to formula.

There are numerous reasons why parents may be unable to produce enough of their own milk to sustain their baby. A recent post in HM4HB from a same-sex male couple garnered almost 50 comments of support and offers to help.

Meanwhile, Sydney mother Jenn Iredale used HM4HB to find breast milk from a donor who is dairy free for her daughter who is intolerant to cows milk.

“It was an absolute godsend,” she said. “As soon as I gave my baby that other mother’s milk she was just a different child.”

But not everybody is on board with the idea.

When breast milk is donated through the Red Cross bank, donors are carefully screened and the milk is pasteurised and tested. This isn’t possible when it comes to peer-to-peer networks, raising concerns among health experts over transmittable diseases.

Despite these worries, Mrs Iredale said she is happy to continue using the group.

“At the end of the day, if a mother does know that she has some sort of disease that could be passed on through breast milk, they’re not going to donate,” she said.

“It makes me so mad that people are all like ‘Oh that’s disgusting, why would you take milk from another mum and I’m like ‘Hang on, you drink milk from a cow’s boob’.”

Minimising the risks

Associate Professor at La Trobe University Dr Lisa Amir agrees that the risks of breast milk sharing are relatively low, assuming some precautions are followed.

“We would recommend if someone is thinking of accepting milk from someone else, that it’s someone they know or could ask questions about their health,” she said.

“Generally, people are expressing milk for their own babies so they are doing it in a careful way, but people need to think about general hygiene like washing their hands and making sure the bottle is clean before they express and then if they are storing the milk it needs to stay frozen.”

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She also noted that infant formula, the only other alternative if a mother is unable to produce her own breast milk, also comes with its own risks.

“People have this idea that formula is a sterile product but it’s not, it’s just powdered milk that has had vitamins and other things added to it. There are cases when it has been contaminated with bacteria or other products.

“If a baby needs extra milk there are risks involved in whatever they are given.”

The Australian Breast Feeding Association said that when breastfeeding is not possible or mothers do not have enough breast milk to nourish their babies, human milk from another woman is the next best thing.

When asked whether they think the launch of the Red Cross bank will mean a decrease in online donors, the mothers we spoke to said it was unlikely.

“At the end of the day, no child is more important than the other but … a premature baby is definitely going to benefit more [from breast milk] than a full-term healthy baby,” said Mrs Iredale.

“But there are loads of woman out there that would be able to donate to both, so I don’t think people in the wider community are going to miss out.”

Maani Truu is a casual journalist and producer at The Sydney Morning Herald.

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