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Study Says Buying Breast Milk Online Is Dangerous!

Katlyn Joy |24, October 2013


We've all heard breast is best, but sometimes there are complications and women who have surplus share with those in need. Throughout history this arrangement occurred, such as with wet nurses while in modern times it might have meant friends or family members would share milk to feed their babies. But today, the internet is playing a new role in milk sharing and the results, according to a new study in the November 2013 issue of Pediatrics, are downright scary.

According to the study, a whopping 77 percent of the 102 breast milk samples obtained online tested positive for bacteria. They weren't just positive for bacteria, they had high bacterial counts. Furthermore, 64 percent tested positive for staphylococcus and 3 even contained salmonella.

Sarah A. Keim is the lead researcher for the study, and reported, "We were very surprised by our findings. Besides bacterial contamination and viruses that could be in the milk, you could be exposing your infant to chemical contaminants, pharmaceuticals or drugs as well."

The bacteria and contamination are likely due to improper practices in collecting, storing and shipping the breast milk. The consequences of ingesting such harmful samples could be much high for a fragile infant who was born prematurely or critically ill.

Milk Banks Vs Milk Sold for Profit

With the advent of the internet, breast milk has become a commodity. Keim notes, "In 2011, as many as 13,000 people posted on the four top sites offering to broker milk deals."

When blood and plasma could be sold easily in this country, it became much more likely to be contaminated with diseases such as hepatitis compared to when blood was merely donated. The thought is that people who are in such need that they sell bodily fluids are also more likely to be unhealthy.

Keim sees a parallel with breast milk being a commodity. "With the monetary piece in this, we're a little worried that people might be incentivized to do things that aren't 100 percent honest and safe."

However, milk banks are a different story. When going through a milk bank that is part of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America or HMBANA, donors are screened and medically tested. Donors are given explicit directions on how to collect, store and ship their milk as well.

Unfortunately, there is such a critical need for breast milk for premature and ill infants, that milk from the milk banks is unavailable for sale to regular moms who are just having some difficulties in providing enough milk for their healthy babies.

In those cases, it's recommended that the mother work with a local breastfeeding support group or a lactation consultant. Most nursing difficulties can be worked out with help. However, if not possible to provide your own breast milk, it is better to use formula than obtain milk untested from a stranger.

Beyond the study, others warn against using milk obtained from the internet or other such souces. The Food and Drug Administration states on its website, "FDA recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet. When human milk is obtained directly from individuals or through the Internet, the donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk. In addition, it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby."

Additionally, the FDA recommends that mothers in such circumstances consult with their healthcare provider and find a resource that screens and tests donors and ensures the safety of its milk.

Milk banks do not compensate mothers for sharing milk, other than possibly helping pay the cost of the equipment needed to safely donate milk.

The Risks of Online-Purchased Milk

The president of HMBANA, Kim Updegrove, warns "I don't think that the general public understands human milk as a bodily fluid that can relay dangerous bacteria and viruses. Breast milk can transmit infections such as HIV and tuberculosis and can also pass on prescription or illicit drugs. Those risks, combined with the evidence of harmful bacteria, should make new moms think twice about buying milk from strangers."

Katlyn Joy is a freelance writer with a Master's of Arts in Creative Writing. She is mom to seven children, and lives in Denver, Colorado with her family.

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