Breast milk sharing is a safe, common practice, but here's what you need to know about your rights and its impact on your child.

bags of breastmilk
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Every day, parents across the country put their trust in daycare facilities, nanny shares, and babysitters to watch after their little ones. But the fact of the matter is that even the most qualified child care provider is human and may make a mistake—like accidentally giving a child the wrong breast milk. A concerned parent took to Reddit on Tuesday, July 23 to share that this had happened to their L.O.

"My 8-month-old child was given another mom's (let’s call her Debra) breastmilk by one of the daycare workers," the original poster (OP) wrote. "We talked to our pediatrician, and he said we need Debra’s medical records including hepatitis A, B, C, and HIV results. Apparently, she did get these tests done but is unwilling to share the results with us or the doctor's office."

The OP went on to say that while "Debra" had stated "that the results were all negative ... she doesn’t want to release the results." The concerned parent also spoke to the daycare owner, who was "largely unhelpful."

While this parent might face an uphill battle while attempting to acquire "Debra's" test results, there are more straightforward steps any mom or dad can take should this happen to them. Here, what the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and experts say a parent can do in the wake of a breast milk mix-up.

The Real Risks of a Breast Milk Mix-Up

The CDC notes that although "significant efforts might be taken to prevent mix-ups, expressed breast milk from a mother" may be "given to another mother’s child in error." When this happens, the organization recommends that "sensitivity should be taken with both families to minimize fear and steps should be taken to appropriately manage the situation in a timely manner."

Jen Davel, a certified labor doula with lactation/breastfeeding training who works with Fox Valley Birth and Baby agrees that "it’s a sensitive matter when it is done accidentally or without permission." She explains, "Many moms may feel nervous or even emotionally hurt and/or angry about it, but should be assured that breast milk is essentially safe and beneficial for baby, even if its accidentally from another mother."

The CDC also assures parents that "few illnesses are transmitted via breast milk, and in fact, the unique properties of breast milk help protect infants from colds and other typical childhood viruses." It also bears noting that in the U.S., women who are HIV-positive are advised not to breastfeed their infants, so it's unlikely that a mother living with HIV would be providing expressed milk for her own child at a child care center.

The CDC also points out that "Hepatitis B and C cannot be spread from a woman to a child through breastfeeding or close contact unless there is exposure to blood."

And while many medications do pass into breast milk, most have little or no effect on infant well-being and few medications are contraindicated while breastfeeding and risk of adverse effects from a single exposure to a medication through breast milk is very low, the CDC notes.

That said, there is a small risk of transmission of infectious diseases via breast milk, and for that reason, you'll do well to communicate and acquire as much information as possible. Davel recommends asking the mom who expressed the breast milk about any drugs or medications she may be taking that could affect the quality of the milk. The CDC also advises asking about any recent infectious disease history and presence of cracked or bleeding nipples during milk expression.

How to Prevent Breast Milk Mix-Ups

These measures can be taken to curb confusion in the future:

  • Clearly label breast milk. "Proper labeling can help with making sure your baby is fed your own breast milk," Davel says. "Label your milk bags and the bottles with baby’s name."
  • Talk to your childcare provider about preemptive steps they're taking. "Ask the daycare what steps they take to make sure mix-ups are minimized," Davel suggests. "Require they keep the empty labeled bags for you to pick up at the end of the day with your child." The CDC says "some facilities use strategies such as putting different colored rubber bands around the bottles for different infants and using separate bins for each infant’s bottles of milk." If your daycare isn't already doing this, you might suggest that they consider the strategy.
  • Ask about your daycare's policies and practices. The CDC recommends that "childcare facilities review and update their policies and practices for storing and handling breast milk, as well as training (or retraining) all childcare facility staff in safe storage and handling of breast milk."

The Bottom-Line on Breast Milk Sharing

Davel reassures parents that milk sharing is a common practice throughout the world, whether it’s via pumped milk donations or “wet nursing” with permission. Nonetheless, it's natural to be unnerved if a breast milk mix-up happens to your child. Ultimately, the CDC says that the best way forward post-incident should be "based on the details of the individual situation and be determined collaboratively between the infant’s physician and parent(s) or guardian(s)."