Does Islam permit feeding infants human milk products stemming from multiple donors?
Breast milk, due to its nutritional composition and immunological advantages is the first choice for all new-borns in particular premature infants. However, it may not be readily available to all mothers due to a multiplicity of reasons. As such, in recent years companies have come up withmilk banks, wherein lactating women from various backgrounds and cultures donate their milk, which is pooled together after undergoing rigorous screening and testing. The question that arises is whether is it permissible to feed this milk or products derived from it to infants? Would this be considered breastfeeding, and therefore are the Sharia rulings pertaining to breastfeeding applicable here.
The following questions are addressed here:
- Whether or not Mahramiyya (or milk-kinship) is established by consuming these products
- Whether the laws of inheritance become applicable by consuming the products
- Whether it is permissible to giving milk products to infants from non-Muslim donors
- The potential transference of harmful substances via breast milk. In reference to the Sharia laws pertaining breastfeeding and milk-kinship, Quran 4:23 mentions: "Prohibited to you [for marriage] are……your [milk] mothers who nursed you, your sisters through nursing…." This verse highlights the categories of women with whom marriage is prohibited. One such category is breastfeeding mothers. Additionally, it also prohibits marrying their offspring.
The hadith literature mentions that milk kinship is established when certain conditions are met: there must be at least five or fifteen consecutive feeds from the same wet-nurse; the child suckles the milk from the breast; milk should result in the growth of bones and growing of flesh in infant’s body.
However, in case of milk banks, these conditions are not met because the milk produced from different women is pooled together and thus there naturally is ambiguity of whether an infant is given consecutive feeds from the same woman or not and whether the milk of the same woman has resulted in the growth of flesh or bones. Therefore, since consuming products from a milk bank cannot conventionally be considered as breastfeeding, the rules pertaining to breastfeeding and milk-kinship are not applicable for an infant who consumes these products.
Regarding inheritance, it is only established through kinship or marriage and not by breastfeeding, and hence laws pertaining to inheritance are not applicable to consuming human based milk products.
A possible contention may arise as to whether it is permissible for infants to consume products from donors who are non-Muslim. In instances where the faith of the donor is not known (for instance, in the UK & US the faith of the donors is not registered), it is still permissible to consume the donated milk. This is based on the understanding that infants’ religious, moral and ethical values will be shaped based on the upbringing they receive and would not be determined by the milk they have been fed. Furthermore, even if the wet-nurse is a non-Muslim, there are many narrations that suggest that the holy Prophet himself was nursed by non-Muslim women. For instance, Thuwayba and later Ḥalīma - both non-Muslims, breastfed the Holy Prophet.
There is research that shows that harmful substances such as alcohol, nicotine & drugs can pass onto the child via breastmilk, however regulations in the UK & US surrounding milk banks screen donorsand carry out tests on the milk averting any possibility of harm and therefore it would be deemed permissible as per the Sharia.
Based on the evidence provided above, human-milk products from milk banks are permitted provided they have undergone the appropriate checks by regulatory bodies.
 Higgins RD, Devaskar S, Hay WW Jr, et al. Executive summary of the workshop "Nutritional Challenges in the High-Risk Infant". J Pediatr. 2012;160(3):511-516. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2011.12.024. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4530452/; Hair AB, Peluso AM, Hawthorne KM, et al. Beyond Necrotizing Enterocolitis Prevention: Improving Outcomes with an Exclusive Human Milk-Based Diet [published correction appears in Breastfeed Med. 2017 Dec;12 (10):663]. Breastfeed Med. 2016;11(2):70-74. doi:10.1089/bfm.2015.0134
 Reva Balcı Akpınar, Ayda Çelebioğlu and Raziye Engîn, "Mothers’ Practices: The Time of Stopping Breastfeeding, Reasons for Stopping Breastfeeding and Methods which used in this Period," International Journal of Human Sciences 1, no. 2 (2004).
 Ibn Ḥabbān, Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥabbān, v. 10, p. 39; Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, v. 4, p. 167.
 Al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, v. 20, p. 384.
 Al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, v. 20, p. 378.
 Al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, v. 20, p. 377.
 Of the Juristic principles used is that of ibaḥa (permissibility) which states that in instances of doubt the Sharia ruling is that of permissibility. This has led to Jurists to rule that in instances of doubt of who the mother is there is no milk kinship established. See Yusuf al-Qaradawı. 1994. Fatawa Muasira. vol. 2, Kuwait: Dar al-Qalam li al-Nashr wa al-Tawzı: 550–556; see https://www.sistani.org/english/book/48/2338/
 See 4:11-14
 Ibn al-Athīr, Usd al-ghāba, v. 3, p. 195.
 Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, v. 1, pp. 90-93.
 See https://neokare.co.uk/donor.php [accessed 15th July 2021]; https://worldnutritionjournal.org/index.php/wn/article/download/636/564/ [accessed 15th July 2021]