Got Vegan Breast Milk?

Multi-ethnic mothers chatting while nursing babies outdoors.

What’s a vegan mom to do when she’s struggling with breastfeeding? Formula feed? As if! There are breastmilk-sharing options out there, but most vegans strictly avoid animal products and they want to be sure their milk donor does too. Leave it to Alicia Silverstone to fill the void with a vegan breastmilk bank!

The famously crunchy “Clueless” star and mom to a 2-year-old son, Bear Blu, came up with her “Kind Mama Milk Share” when her friend and fellow vegan, Rachel Holtzman, was struggling to produce enough milk for her newborn son. Alicia wrote about Rachel’s experience on her vegan living blog, “The Kind Life,”saying, “She tried reaching out in her community for donor milk, but it was almost impossible to figure out what kind of lifestyle choices the donors had made. And after all that hard work keeping herself vibrant and healthy, she felt she had a right to demand better for her baby.”

She goes on to say, “A lot of women unfortunately have a similar struggle, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to give their babies the most amazing start in life with clean, mean, glorious breast milk. And because we are a community of beautiful souls who recognize the importance of food as health, I say we help support those mamas and babies who need a hand during one of the most important times in their lives.”

Breastmilk sharing is a great option for moms who are unable to breastfeed, but still want their babies to reap the benefits of breastmilk. And I can understand how a mom who is adamant about avoiding animal products would want to be sure that the milk she is giving her baby came from someone who is just as adamant. But there are safety issues when it comes to sharing breastmilk that moms should be just as concerned about.

I was shocked to hear Rachel Holtzman say, “Instead of having to ask really probing, very personal questions, going to a place like “The Kind Life” took that out of the equation and we could make the safe assumption that the person on the donating end valued those things as much as we did.” I appreciate wanting to use a donor who has similar values, but I don’t think making a “safe assumption” is enough when it comes to your baby’s health. Someone might be vegan and very strict about avoiding animal products, but that doesn’t mean that person hasn’t unknowingly been exposed to a communicable disease.

Breastmilk is a bodily fluid, which means it can carry viruses like H.I.V. and hepatitis. It’s important that breastmilk is screened before use. Organizations like The National Milk Bank require donors to complete a thorough screening process before donating any milk. Some breastmilk is even pasteurized before it is distributed.

I do applaud Alicia for recognizing a need, staying true to her beliefs, and helping other moms do what’s best for their babies, but I think any mom, vegan or not, who’s looking for donor milk should research all her options.