In recent years, breast feeding has regained popularity due to numerous studies that have revealed the incredible benefits of breast feeding for both babies and mothers. While its important for babies to breastfeed, it's not always possible. As a result, some women, who are unable to lactate for various reasons, have turned to donated or purchased breast milk in order to give their children the "next best thing" to their own mother's milk.
Keim's study compared 100 samples of breast milk from two popular "milk sharing" websites with samples obtained from a regulated milk bank.
When a mother is physically unable to produce milk--especially if she has a premature infant with medical complications--breast milk banks are available. There are 13 banks in the US and Canada that follow the Human Milk Banking Association of North America's guidelines, which require donations be screened and pasteurized. Milk banks also require a prescription.
Sixty-four percent of the samples received online were infected with staph and 36 percent had strep. Three samples contained salmonella. Only 9 percent of the milk from the websites contained no detectable bacteria.
Samples from the milk banks were cleaner, though not free of contamination. Only 25 percent had staph and 20 percent had strep. None of the milk banks' samples contained salmonella and 25 percent contained no bacteria.
The study, led by Dr. Sarah A. Keim, revealed that "human milk purchased via the Internet exhibited high overall bacterial growth and frequent contamination with pathogenic bacteria, reflecting poor collection, storage, or shipping practices."
While breast milk offers more health benefits than formula, if consuming tainted donor milk, infants are at "risk for negative outcomes, particularly if born preterm or are medically compromised."
So where does this leave women who are struggling to breast feed their babies? The first step should be to seek lactation support services. Many hospitals and clinics have lactation consultants available to new mothers. Similar to the unregulated internet marketplace, some women choose to receive excess milk from other women in their social networks. Many feel it is safer to use milk donated by a personal friend rather than an unknown internet source.