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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC: Sharing Breastmilk is Increasingly Common, But Its Impact on Infant Nutrition is Under-studied

Though families worldwide turn to various methods of human milk exchange to feed their infants, researchers have done little to explore the impact of sharing breast milk on infant health outcomes and malnutrition, according to a paper led by faculty at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The first-ever review of scholarly literature on human milk exchange offers the ‘state-of-the-science’ on human milk exchange. Human milk exchange includes human milk banking, human milk sharing and emerging markets in which human milk may be purchased or sold.

Dr. Aunchalee Palmquist, assistant professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School, is lead author of “Current Trends in Research on Human Milk Exchange for Infant Feeding,” which was published online by the Journal of Human Lactation. Dr. Palmquist also is a member of the Gillings School’s Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute.

“We have virtually no science related to how human milk sharing effects the growth, immunological function or neurological development of infants,” Dr. Palmquist says.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants receive breast milk exclusively from birth to six months of age and continue nursing, with the addition of solid foods, to two or more years of age. In situations where a mother’s milk requires supplementation or is unavailable, many parents turn to milk sharing, which they may find preferable to formula feeding.

Dr. Palmquist and her team stress that parents and health care providers will benefit from data that enable them to evaluate the risks, costs and benefits of different methods of human milk exchange for more informed decisions that work for individual families.

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