My kid had breastmilk not from me.
March 19, 2010 7:16 AM   Subscribe

I shouldn't be worried that my child was accidentally given another woman's breastmilk. Right?

I just got a call from my daughter’s daycare. They let me know that one of the workers in the infant room accidentally fed G ~2 oz. of another kid’s bottle of breastmilk. Since she was about 3 months old, G has been a formula-exclusive baby for a whole novel's length of reasons that are not germane to this discussion.

I keep alternating between being totally chill about it and being a little grossed out, and I can’t figure out which feeling will win at this point. I mean, on one hand my earth-mamma side is all “whatever,” knowing that breastmilk has all the wonderful nutritional benefits and immunities and such, and I’m 99.9998% sure she’ll be fine. On the other hand, the part of me that was raised in this society that is so bizarrely squicked out by such an essential and natural part of our existence is, well, squicked out. A tiny part of me is irrationally worried about G getting something from this other woman. It’s completely dumb, I know, and SCIENCE! plus the CDC says she’ll be just fine, but still.

I know that plenty of women donate breastmilk, but their milk is subject to rigorous screenings for the various diseases that can be transmitted through breastmilk, and that's definitely not the case here. I have no idea if this woman is carrying any infectious diseases. I have no idea what (if any) medications she might be on, and there's no way in hell I could ever imagine asking her, because doing so seems highly inappropriate and invasive and awkward and potentially insulting. I mean, she's been feeding this to her own child, and I highly doubt she'd do anything that would put him/her at risk.

Frankly, with how many difficulties I encountered when I was attempting to breastfeed G, and how goddamn tough it was for me to get a measly 3 oz out of a single pumping session, I’d be way, WAY more pissed if the reverse had happened. Heh.

I'm such a big advocate of breastfeeding, and it's troubling how much this incident is making me feel like a giant hypocrite.

Please tell me what to do here, if there's really anything that can be done. Some of my friends on Twitter advocate asking for a tuition discount or some kind of remuneration from the school, but I don't know if that's a good solution. It's a great place aside from this one major misstep, and I'm not a big believer in punitive actions unless they are really, really merited. Help.
posted by shiu mai baby to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, read what you wrote. You've already talked yourself through this rationally, you just need to listen to yourself.

You love the daycare. They made an awkward and embarrassing mistake.

I think you're just reacting viscerally to the weird bodily-fluid intimacy thing, and feeling a little guilty that you aren't breastfeeding your little one.
posted by desuetude at 7:23 AM on March 19, 2010

Let it go. It's 2 ounces. Not a big deal. Your kid has already passed it through her system, probably. Don't ask for a discount or anything, because they did take the effort to let you know what happened, when they could just as easily not have told you and you would never have known.

I'm not sure how old your child is, but chances are that she has already (and will in the future) ingest non-food items that are much worse than another woman's breastmilk.
posted by puritycontrol at 7:24 AM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Forget it. Someday you'll see your kid eat a ladybug and it'll put it all in perspective.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:24 AM on March 19, 2010 [48 favorites]

Some of my friends on Twitter advocate asking for a tuition discount or some kind of remuneration from the school, but I don't know if that's a good solution.

I don't think it is. There was no harm to your daughter, apparently. I think you should instead emphasize to the school that not everyone will be as easygoing about this, and that in order to guard against similar situations in the future they will need to refine their breastmilk/formula/labeling system or whatever sorting system led to the mistake.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:24 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have no idea what (if any) medications she might be on, and there's no way in hell I could ever imagine asking her, because doing so seems highly inappropriate and invasive and awkward and potentially insulting.

I don't know, I think it would be OK to ask (in a "very apologetic, isn't this awkward, but you're-a-mother-too-so-you-understand" tone) the, uh, donor mom if there's anything you should pass onto your pediatrician since your child has been a formula baby for awhile. Even allergies could be an issue. I would rank it up there with asking about STDs with new sexual partners: awkward, possibly insulting, but socially accepted as necessary.

This is assuming they've told her what happened as well.

I wouldn't sue the school.
posted by availablelight at 7:24 AM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

Absolutely do not worry. Go with that part of yourself that feels totally chill about it. Even if the mom is taking meds or whatever, it's extremely unlikely anything untoward would happen from one feeding.

Don't feel like a hypocrite. Feelings are just feelings. When I had trouble nursing my first son, a friend who was nursing offered to try to nurse him for me, as supposedly it can be easier for a baby to latch with an experienced nursing mother. I was just not comfortable with that. But five years later, when I was nursing his younger brother, I would regularly nurse a friend's baby while I was babysitting him, if he got really fussy, because my comfort level had changed.
posted by not that girl at 7:25 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let it go. Your baby certainly won't be harmed -- look up "wetnurse".
posted by kestrel251 at 7:26 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I get where you're coming from.
That said. You shouldn't be freaked out, logically, it's just the squick factor of breast milk/breast milk production that's giving you that reaction, plus given your difficulties breastfeeding, you may just be sad that your baby had some boob juice to eat that didn't come from you. Just remember, the woman who made the breast milk is probably just as healthy and interested in feeding her own child well as you are.
It will be fine. Please don't punish the school, they're probably way more freaked that you are. and please don't say anything to the other mom unless the school does - and if you do say something, just thank her and find something else to talk about.
posted by pomegranate at 7:27 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

My sister is a breastfeeding & lactation counselor, and this is her response:
"Nothing will happen. Not even a tummy ache, since breastmilk is much more digestible then formula. Moms who are on certain medications are not encouraged to breastfeed, so it's highly unlikely that a mom who goes to the trouble of pumping for daycare would be on any of those kinds of meds. Moms with communicable diseases do not breastfeed. Common germs are not usually transmitted in breastmilk. Women have been feeding other people's kids for centuries."

So, there you have it.
posted by SamanthaK at 7:29 AM on March 19, 2010 [15 favorites]

Your child now has "milk siblings". See Wet Nurse.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 7:32 AM on March 19, 2010

See, especially Current attitudes in developed countries
Dr Rhonda Shaw notes that Western objections to wet-nurses are cultural:

"The exchange of body fluids between different women and children, and the exposure of intimate bodily parts make some people uncomfortable. The hidden subtext of these debates has to do with perceptions of moral decency. Cultures with breast fetishes tend to conflate the sexual and erotic breast with the functional and lactating breast."
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 7:37 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

It is awesome that the daycare actually fessed up to their mistake. I'd only be concerned if stuff like this kept happening, but as a once off it's no big deal.
posted by barake at 7:39 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far, I really do appreciate all of them. I know full well what a wetnurse is; but it's not exactly common practice these days.

For what it's worth, I called my pediatrician. Both she and the other ped in the practice were pretty concerned, and strongly recommended that I ask the daycare to contact the other mom and find out what (if any) medications she's on, and if she has any chronic medical issues.

I'm ok with doing that, as it does protect her privacy way more than if I were to ask myself.

Clarifying point: mentioning punative action was a bad choice of words -- no one is saying I should sue, and, unless G were to contract something, it's not even close to being an option. I believe they were recommending it in terms of a reduced tuition for the month.
posted by shiu mai baby at 7:44 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

This happened with my baby, too, when she was about 6 months old. In our case, the daycare mixed up the two bottles of breastmilk, so both babies got the wrong milk. Just listen to the rational part of yourself. You will get over it.
posted by gaspode at 7:47 AM on March 19, 2010

Oh, just saw your update. When it happened to us, our pediatrician basically shrugged and said yep, it's your job to worry - you are a parent (as is our ped), and then told us not to worry at all.

I figure doctors are human too, and also subject to cultural biases sometimes.
posted by gaspode at 7:49 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Did daycare tell other mom yet?
posted by k8t at 7:53 AM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: I believe they were recommending it in terms of a reduced tuition for the month.

No, no, do not do this. A good daycare, as you know, is a great asset in your life. It was a mistake that they immediately notified you about. They might feel pressured to give you a discount, but I wouldn't exploit that goodwill among people who care for you baby and were totally above the table when they made a mistake.

Have the daycare notify the other mother, since it was their mistake, not yours. They'll have to say something along the lines of, "Please let us know if you're taking any medication we should be aware of, or any other issues that might complicate matters." Maybe a little awkward, but she'll probably be more annoyed that two ounces were spent on someone else's kid since breast milk is gold to working moms who go to the trouble of pumping and dumping. But honestly, most women who take the time to pump and dump will make sure nothing questionable like adult medication is present in the milk, and they almost certainly wouldn't use contaminated milk that would pose a risk to the baby--theirs or anyone else's.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:59 AM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I think it would be smart to find out about any meds and diseases that the 'donor' mom is on or might have. She may have decided that any risks of medication are acceptable for her child while you may disagree. Looking at your update, I agree that you should have the daycare do it. They made the mistake, they can deal with the awkwardness.

That awkwardness should probably be the only 'punishment'. I don't think the incident merits a reduction in tuition, it was just a small mistake. I do think you should let them know that you are disappointed in their labeling system though, as a mom of a kid with food allergies I'd be livid. If it happens again, then I'd be asking for discounts.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:07 AM on March 19, 2010

If your baby has no adverse reaction within a few hours I would forget about it. If she gets an allergic reaction, then reach out to the other mother and see if she's on any medications.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:07 AM on March 19, 2010

We feed our kids milk from COWS, and cheese that comes from SHEEP and GOATS. A little human breast milk is nothing to worry about.
posted by charlesv at 8:16 AM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

For the record, my nephew once wound up eating a small amount of dog poop when he was an infant. (MAN, I hate that dog!) Anyway, he's fine. Your daughter had something far less harmful; she will be fine. The day-care will be extra-OMG-careful from here on out.

If this is the worst thing to happen in your daughter's childhood, then she's been blessed with awesome luck. Don't worry about this one.
posted by Citrus at 8:18 AM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: I'm a mom of a 23-month old who has been in daycare since infancy. I'd follow your pediatrician's lead here. You are right to be concerned about this. Chances are everything will be OK. It wasn't a lot, and it was only once. (Right?!)

You should be concerned about what the other mother has ingested. I would also ask the pediatrician if the health department needs to be involved (probably only if the other mom refuses to share information).

The one question I would be in the daycare owner's office asking is "HOW will you, daycare people, prevent this from ever happening again?" I would also want to know where the current process broke down. IMO this isn't worth chasing a discount on tuition. That is not going to prevent it from happening in the future.

Don't feel guilty about any of this. It's food that wasn't authorized to be given to your child. You'd do the same thing had your child been given something that was forbidden due to allergy or parental preference. Daycares need to have processes in place to assure that the right food is given to the right child at the right time. It has nothing to do with breastmilk vs. formula.
posted by FergieBelle at 9:12 AM on March 19, 2010

Response by poster: I really appreciate everyone's responses here. Leaving aside the totally irrational squick factor, I do stand by my initial concern overall, mainly because I don't know anything about this mom personally, which is what I think sets it apart from the stories that other people have offered about wet nurses and breastfeeding the child of a friend.

As TooFewShoes pointed out, that mom might've been on a medication that she would consider to be an acceptable risk to her kid, where I might've disagreed about that level of risk.

The daycare does keep breastmilk in a separate fridge compartment from the other baby foods; apparently the mix-up happened when both bottles were warmed up at the same time. We use the same brand of bottles as the other kid, so someone wasn't paying close enough attention when they grabbed one of the two yellow-ringed bottles off the counter.

Regardless, I'm happy to say that the daycare was very willing to talk to the other mom, who told them that the only thing she's taking are vitamins (which is standard practice for breastfeeding moms), and that she has no chronic medical conditions. The fact that they were so forthright with what happened, and that they had no qualms about talking to the mom, means I'm as happy as I'm going to be about this situation.

Thanks again, everyone.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:45 AM on March 19, 2010

I think it's perfectly legitimate to be concerned and to ask the daycare to follow-up with the other mom for any health/medication issues.

But I also think it's a okay for you to be concerned about the oversight at the daycare center. I wonder if there are other things that are going awry there. However, it's really great that they owned up to the mistake and let you know. That was a good move on their part.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:48 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I'd be more worried about that pediatrician of yours. It makes little sense that they're 'pretty concerned' about this. The chances that this mother would pump milk while knowing she was on unacceptable meds or suffering from a chronic illness are pretty much nil. I would think she wants her baby to be healthy just as much as you want yours.
posted by Dragonness at 11:00 AM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

As someone who regularly cross-nursed other babies and whose own child was cross-nursed, let me tell you not to feel guilty about your irrational squick factor. It's there, it's borne out of concern for your child, and while it may not have a lot of reason to back it up, it's not doing anyone any harm. Just because it doesn't make any sense doesn't mean it's not OK. ;-)

(but yeah, particularly given your follow-up info, your kid is perfectly, perfectly safe.)
posted by KathrynT at 11:10 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I hear what you're saying, Dragonness, but I'd rather have a pediatrician who acted out of an abundance of caution rather than the opposite. You're right in that the chances of this mom knowingly doing things to harm her own baby are incredibly small, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

Plenty of people in this world do unsafe stuff without knowing any better or who count the known risks as acceptable. Even with the knowledge that I have now, that the other mom "only takes vitamins," I'll never know what those "vitamins" are. Yes, there is a 99.99% chance that they're probably the standard prenatal vitamins that most breastfeeding moms take. But maybe she's a Scientology devotee who takes some concoction to combat her depression. Maybe she's a super-crunchy mom who rails against allopathy and who believes that everything can be cured with herbal remedies and is taking lots of ginseng to combat mommybrain. Maybe she considers pot a vitamin.

Point is: I don't know, nor will I ever. I don't judge those choices; I just maintain they're not ones I personally would make if I were breastfeeding, because that is not stuff I'd want to expose my daughter to. In this unique instance, I have no control over what she ingested, and I'm at the mercy of the other mom's good judgment.

But I don't for a second question my doctor for wanting the daycare to get some additional information from the mom.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:23 AM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: Dragonness, just to back the OP up here, I nursed my own daughter for just shy of three years while taking medication that caused breastmilk donation centers to refuse my milk. (It was Prozac, it was a low dose, I'd done my own research and was quite comfortable with it, but the stuff does pass into breastmilk. At the time, research on the subject was extremely scanty, and "better safe than sorry" was the watchword.) In fact, sometimes I would have a drink without pumping and dumping. These are risks I was comfortable with, and my friends were comfortable with, but I would not expect a stranger to have to be comfortable with them.
posted by KathrynT at 11:33 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the CDC website:

"What can happen if someone else's breast milk is given to another child?

HIV and other serious infectious diseases can be transmitted through breast milk. However, the risk of infection from a single bottle of breast milk, even if the mother is HIV positive, is extremely small. For women who do not have HIV or other serious infectious diseases, there is little risk to the child who receives her breast milk. See Diseases and Conditions for more information."

"Breastfeeding is NOT advisable if one or more of the following conditions is true:

The mother:

Has been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Is taking antiretroviral medications

Has untreated, active tuberculosis

Is infected with human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II

Is using or is dependent upon an illicit drug

Is taking prescribed cancer chemotherapy agents, such as antimetabolites that interfere with DNA replication and cell division

Is undergoing radiation therapies; however, such nuclear medicine therapies require only a temporary interruption in breastfeeding."

If you're concerned, you could talk to the mother whose breastmilk it was, and rule all of the above out, just for your own peace of mind.

But I would say that if she was expressing breastmilk for her own child, it is unlikely that she has any of the above issues (although it is a non-zero possibility - there is a very small chance that she might not know about an illness that she might have, or that she might have a substance addition.)
posted by Oceanesque at 7:07 PM on March 19, 2010

The medication issue would have been completely moot by the time you discovered if any was there to worry about because the child suffered no adverse reaction. Any adverse reaction to any tiny amount of drugs that could possibly have been passed via breastmilk *would already have occurred* long before you discovered what the mom said she took.

If-- heaven forfend-- "donor mom" was on Prozac, the exposure had already occurred. What would you do if you had learned this? Have you child's stomach pumped? *That* would be far more traumatic (and it would be too late anyway) than the exposure itself if it hadn't caused any noticeable issue.

Even if donor mom was on heroin, if nothing has happened by now, nothing is going to and your pediatrician is truly bizarre for being concerned. Sure, you'd want to find out that the mom didn't have HIV (highly unlikely)-- but any worry about meds is precluded by lack of issue in *baby*.

If you'd heard about this and baby was acting weird, *then* it would be an urgent matter to learn about mom's meds. After the fact, it makes no sense to find that out.
posted by Maias at 9:44 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I disagree. If the mom was on something, I would want to know immediately, and I'd argue I have every right to know, since it was ingested by my daughter. Would it have made a difference? Was there anything that could've been done? I have no idea, and thankfully it doesn't matter. But that hardly means it was dumb for me to try to find out.

I'm a big fan of having as much information as possible when it comes to matters of my daughter, and I make absolutely no apology for that.

Also, I'd like to leave the judgments of my pediatrician out of this discussion. You know exactly nothing about her, aside from what I've told you. My question was whether or not I should be worried about my daughter having someone else's breastmilk, not whether or not I've made a good choice of doctor.

Tl;dr: the judgmental tone isn't helpful. Thanks.
posted by shiu mai baby at 10:16 AM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

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