You want your baby to have the advantages of being breastfed but you are unable to provide the milk yourself. What do you do, especially now that it has been shown that buying breast milk online can be hazardous to your baby’s health?
Human milk has been shown to be the healthiest food to give a baby, providing nutrients and immunities against infections and diseases. Health officials normally urge women to breastfeed their babies for at least the first six months, continuing through the first year by supplementing with other foods. The CDC indicates that approximately 77% of U.S. babies are given their mother’s milk at least once.
Buying breast milk online could be hazardous to your baby’s health
Eager to provide breast milk for their babies, new mothers who cannot nurse are turning to the internet. This, it turns out, can be an unsafe option for their babies. A recent study published in the journal, Pediatrics, shows that human milk purchased online may be contaminated and unsafe!
The study, which evaluated samples available through on-line sources, revealed that almost 75% of human breast milk being sold through popular on-line sites was contaminated with high bacterial counts of Gram-negative bacteria that cause infections such as meningitis and pneumonia. Additionally, 64% tested positive for staphylococcus which can cause various types of infections including skin abscesses and septicemia. Salmonella and fecal contamination were also present in some of the samples. About 20% of the samples contained cytomegalovirus, CMV, which can cause serious illness and even death in premature or sick infants. Dr. Kathleen Marinelli, a neonatologist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the chair of the United States Breastfeeding Committee, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C., stated, "If preemies get milk with CMV in it, they can get everything from a systemic illness that can put them back on a ventilator and make them really, really sick, to death, so you don't want them to get milk with CMV in it."
Sarah A Keim, lead author of the study, shared, “We were very surprised by our findings. Besides bacterial contamination and viruses … you could be exposing your infant to chemical contaminants, pharmaceuticals or drugs as well.”
In the report shared by NBCNews.com, Khadijah Cisse, a midwife and founder of MilkShare, spoke against this study saying, “… you should feel ashamed of yourself for spreading misinformation … Breast milk is supposed to contain bacteria.”
Keim went on to share that the human milk contained not only healthy bacteria, which are important, but also elevated levels of pathogens that could be harmful to the child.
In the study, Keim and her team sent 495 inquiries to various public websites advertising human milk for sale. Of those, 191 sellers did not respond. Forty-one sellers did not respond beyond one reply. Seventy-nine seller/donors agreed to send milk but never did, and eight seller/donors accepted funds but never sent the milk. One hundred-one samples were acquired and tested.
Organized Milk Banks
Organized milk banks might be a safer option because the donors are screened and the milk is tested and pasteurized to make sure it is safe for consumption. Looking for a milk bank? Click here to locate the Human Milk Banking Association of American and to see if your baby qualifies.
All of the milk sharing sites advise their donors to collect, store and send the milk by sanitary methods. They are also required to provide medical proof that the milk is safe.
After going through the qualification process, breast milk typically goes for between $3.50-$6.00 per ounce through an organized milk bank.
Reasons a Mother is Unable to Breastfeed
There are many reasons a mother might find herself unable to breastfeed her baby but still wants her child to have the benefits of having done so. If a baby is born prematurely, the mother’s body may not be ready to produce the milk her baby needs. If a baby has been diagnosed with galactosemia, a rare genetic metabolic disorder, the child should not be breastfed.
Breastfeeding is NOT recommended if the mother:
- Is HIV positive or has been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus
- Milk should not be used if mother is taking antiretroviral medications
- Has untreated, active tuberculosis. Breastfeeding would not be safe until mother is no longer contagious
- Has chicken pox. Breastfeeding could resume as soon as all spots are crusted over and the mother is no longer contagious
- Has untreated Lyme disease
- Has Hepatitis A. Would be considered safe after a dose of gamma globulin
- Has Hepatitis B. Breastfeeding would be safe after the baby receives a dose of HBIG, plus the baby would need to have started on the first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine
- Has Hepatitis C, especially if the nipples are cracked or bleeding
- Has herpes simplex lesions on her breast
- Is infected with human T-Cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II
- Is using or addicted to an illegal drug
- Is taking cancer chemotherapy drugs that interfere with cell division and DNA replication
- Is undergoing radiation treatments
What Other Options are There?
If one does not qualify to receive milk through the bank, and still wants to provide breast milk for their baby, on-line sources become what they might consider to be their only viable option. Consider these options as well:
- Mothers can work with their pediatricians to discover what other possibilities might be available to them.
- Lactation experts can also help to find solutions to many feeding issues.
- Network with family and friends to find someone who has extra milk that can be shared.
Any feeding system except that of a mother breastfeeding her own baby carries some inherent risk. Human milk can pass on all the benefits and all the risks to the baby – just like any other bodily fluid.
Someone purchasing human milk from one of these sources would be unable to determine if the milk has been tampered with, whether the donor was free from drugs and disease, or if the milk had been collected, stored and shipped under safe and sanitary conditions.
With these additional risks, mothers might want to think twice before buying something as important as human milk for their babies from total strangers where there are no controls in place to safeguard the child.