Misappropriated Human Milk: Fantasy, Fear, and Fact Regarding Infectious Risk

Barbara B. Warner, MD, FABFM; Amy Sapsford, RD, CSP, LD


NAINR. 2004;4(1) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Incidents of infants being fed the wrong mothers' milk are a source of anxiety for both family and staff. This article reviews the infectious risks associated with misappropriated human milk. A plan of care for dealing with this problem is outlined along with specific recommendations regarding laboratory testing and follow-up.

Despite significant prevention efforts, incidents where an infant is fed another mother's milk still occur. The misappropriation of human milk results in anxiety among both family and staff. Much of this anxiety results from confusion about the potential infectious risks to the infant and uncertainty as to how to evaluate this risk. There is abundant information regarding transfer of infectious agents into human milk[1] and on human milk storage and handling.[2] However, no clear guidelines exist regarding infant evaluation following human milk misappropriation. At the same time there is increasing focus on patient safety and medical error reporting by hospital systems and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JCAHO).[3,4,5] The purpose of this review is to consider the potential risk for transmission of infectious agents if an infant is fed another mother's milk in the hospital and to provide guidelines to be used in evaluation of this risk.[6]


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