The most recent issue of the Journal of Human Lactation has a fascinating article entitled, “The Concept of Milk Kinship in Islam: Issues Raised when Offering Preterm Infants of Muslim Families Donor Human Milk.”
The article explains that many Muslims have concerns about accepting donations of human milk because according to the Quran, among the people a Muslim man may not marry are any women who suckled him, and any of her daughters. So many Muslims’ concern with donor milk is that since the donors are not known to the recipients, it is possible that a Muslim might inadvertently marry the child of one of the donors of milk he or she received as a baby.
In the Muslim world (according to the article), using wet nurses is common. In this case the problem is avoided since the wet nurse and her children are known to the family, so they will be able to prevent improper marriages in the future.
In 2004, the European Council for Fatwa and Research met to discuss the issue. They issued a decree that using donor milk does not establish kinship, and is permitted in Islam even when the identities of the donors are not known. They used three arguments to explain their reasoning.
The first argument is that the verse in the Quran specifically refers to women “who have suckled you.” Babies receiving donor milk through a milk bank are not suckled by the donors. The donors express their milk, and babies receive it normally either via bottle or feeding tube.
The second argument is that milk banks normally combine the milk of several donors and then pasteurize it before packaging it for distribution. For this reason, each mother individually is probably not providing a full feeding to the baby.
The third argument is that when a controversy in a religious practice exists, Islam tends to adopt the path leading to the greater good and avoids placing hardship upon the followers.
I found the concept of milk kinship lovely, and the thought process behind the decision to allow donor human milk very inspiring. I hope that the availability of donor human milk will increase so that all families who need it will have access, and be able to make informed decisions about its use.