SINGAPORE - There are potential risks in sharing breast milk, warned gynaecologist Yong Tze Tein.
In particular, there is a concern of the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV, through breast milk, said Dr Yong, a senior consultant at Singapore General Hospital's department of obstetrics and gynaecology.
But she noted that the risk of infection from a single bottle of breast milk from a HIV-positive mother is small.
Experts have long recommended breastfeeding till the child is 12 months old and thereafter as long as mother and child desire.
Benefits include optimum nutrition, as the composition of breast milk is constantly changing to meet the baby's nutritional needs, and protection against a range of health issues such as diarrhoea, lung and ear infections and allergies.
Studies have shown that breastfed children have lower blood pressure and total cholesterol, as well as a reduced risk of obesity and diabetes later in life.
Unlike countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Australia, Singapore does not have a regulated milk bank.
Dr Yong, who is also the president of the Association for Breastfeeding Advocacy, thinks that a public milk bank is not feasible at the moment because of supply and demand.
"Having a milk bank is definitely safer. (But) it is not feasible at the moment because our breastfeeding rates, although improving, are not that high yet.
"It is expensive to run because donors need to be screened and proper pasteurisation and storage are necessary."
Instead of buying formula...
The Human Milk 4 Human Babies (HM4HB) is an international online community involving 52 countries and more than 20,000 members.
It was started by Canadian-based activist Emma Kwasnica in 2010 after she was outraged that a well-known online doctor had plans to peddle his brand of formula milk.
HM4HB promotes breast milk and foster a community of local families to share breast milk, according to their website. It is a volunteer-only network with no funding or financial support. The sale of breast milk is banned.
On Facebook, the Singapore group has about 1,500 likes and many active posts from mothers who wish to donate their milk and requests from others for breast milk.
Posts from donors usually include details about their diet, lifestyle and age of child.
Mr Chakilam Phani Bhooshan, 36, an IT consultant, has been getting breast milk for his year-old child from the group for the past year. He usually asks for details such as the mother's medical history and age of the child.
While he takes precautions, he believes that there is a system of trust in the community.
"I believe mothers are all on the same side. Breast milk is the foundation of my child's growth and the benefits will last through his life," said Mr Chakilam.
Ms Felicia Ang, 22, has been on the HM4HB page for the past two months. She donates her breast milk because of oversupply and because her freezer was running out of space.
"The experience is good. Everyone around me was so impressed with me and all of them are very supportive about it," said Ms Ang, who intends to breastfeed until her five-month-old baby is a year old.
This article was published on April 26 in The New Paper. Get The New Paper for more stories.