The Online Sharing of Human Milk: A Content Analysis

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Papanicolaou, Alicia
Content analysis , Cross-Feeding , Human Milk Sharing , Internet Based Human Milk Exchange
The benefits of human milk are well-known, as human milk provides optimal nutrition in facilitating the growth, health, and development of infants and children. There are circumstances when a mother’s breast milk may be unavailable due to maternal illness, insufficient milk supply, contraindications, or geographical barriers (Dempsey & Miletin, 2010). Global recommendations support the use of donor human milk in situations where a mother’s own breast milk is unavailable (World Health Organization, 2009). Due to the limited supply, the pasteurized product is allocated to high risk infants within the hospitalized setting (Human Milk Bank Association of North America, 2008). Based on the allocation priorities, many individuals are unable to access donor human milk. In response to the growing demands for donor human milk, Internet based organizations have facilitated peer to peer human milk sharing. Given the fact that sharing human milk has been practiced as a covert activity, there is a lack of prevalence data (Thorley, 2008). To date, minimal research has examined this phenomenon. The purpose of this study was to explore the description of sharing human milk utilizing an online commerce-free approach. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with 13 research participants and analyzed using an inductive approach to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative content analysis was selected based on the recognition of the importance of obtaining a rich description when exploring this phenomenon. Outcomes generated from the research study resulted in emerging concepts and categories. The concepts from the data analysis consisted of the following: commitment to human milk; virtual nature of relationships; and making the private public. The identified categories include: 1) infant feeding practices; 2) experience with sharing human milk; 3) selection of donors or recipients; 4) relationships among donors and recipients sharing human milk; 5) shared doctrine; 6) use of the Internet to share human milk; and 7) informing health care professionals and others regarding sharing human milk. Findings generated from this study provide an increase in understanding of this phenomenon. The cultivated knowledge will assist health care professionals in working in partnership with families to ensure optimal outcomes.
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