Many breastfeeding mothers who return to work utilize daycare providers to care for their breastfed babies. Those who want to exclusively breastfeed their babies will need to plan for the transition ahead. In some circumstances the mother can come into the daycare facility to breastfeed at arranged times. But many mothers do not have this option and will need to provide pumped breast milk to the daycare facility to feed the baby.
Surprisingly, cases of babies receiving the wrong breast milk at daycare facilities are not rare. A recent Internet search revealed six cases highlighted in the media over the past five years where babies received another mother's breast milk while in the care of a daycare provider. Additional stories can be seen on various parenting forums. In all likelihood, there are more cases that have not been made public, or in some incidences, never brought to the parents' attention.
Breast milk is not only an excellent source of nutrition for babies, but it also contains important antibodies and other protective substances to help babies defend against illness. However, breast milk can also contain pathogens associated with dangerous diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. While some sources suggest that breast milk can transmit these bloodborne pathogens to babies, other sources suggest the risk of a baby getting an infection from the milk is very low. Specifically, transmission of HIV from breast milk is not only low, it’s never been documented. The risk is low because chemicals present in breast milk act, together with time and cold temperature, to destroy HIV present in breast milk. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends treating breast milk the same as other bodily fluids (e.g., blood, urine) that may transmit diseases.
Aside from the risk of transmitting diseases from breast milk, there are other factors to consider if a baby receives the wrong breast milk. Breast milk may contain illicit drugs, alcohol, or prescription and non-prescription medications that the mother has taken. These may cause problems for babies, particularly if they have never been exposed to these substances previously. Another consideration is the potential for contamination of the breast milk due to the normal bacterial flora of the mother or improper pumping and storage of the milk. As most parents would agree, the anxiety of learning your baby has ingested another mother's milk can be significant.