Breastmilk Via the Web?
The 2013 study, led by researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital, looked at the safety of selling breastmilk to others over the Internet. Researchers found that more than 75 percent of the breastmilk samples they purchased over the Internet contained bacteria capable of causing sickness. They also found that breastmilk providers frequently used poor collection, storage or shipping practices.
Buying/selling breastmilk online is a rapidly growing trend. A 2011 study reported an average of 13,000 online listings for breastmilk annually. Why? For some working or traveling moms, schedules or lifestyles can make it difficult to breastfeed their infants. Also, some women are not able to generate sufficient breastmilk to meet the needs of their baby. For dads raising an infant alone, options are even more limited.
In such circumstances, a parent often must choose between manufactured baby formula, a local "wet nurse" to suckle the child, a milk bank or an online breastmilk resource. Since there are numerous health benefits to breastmilk, compared to formula, many parents exclude that option. And if a local wet nurse or milk bank is not available, the remaining option is buying breastmilk online.
The process: Women post ads on websites describing the breastmilk they want to sell or buy. For the study, the researchers purchased from sellers, analyzing the milk in the lab, and comparing the findings to samples from a milk bank that follows the Human Milk Banking Association of North America guidelines that include carefully screening donors and pasteurizing the milk, which kills harmful bacteria before the milk reaches an infant.
"We were surprised so many samples had such high bacterial counts and even fecal contamination in the milk, most likely from poor hand hygiene," said Sarah A. Keim, principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health. "We were also surprised a few samples contained salmonella."
Researchers determined that bacterial contamination resulted from unclean containers, unsanitary breastmilk pump parts and shipping without dry ice.
Based on the study results, Keim said, "It is not safe to buy breastmilk online, and the Food and Drug Administration recommends against sharing milk obtained in that way."
Diana Careaga, program officer for First 5 LA, added: "First 5 LA strongly promotes breastfeeding for women and their children, but has no official stance on buying breastmilk online. Mothers should contact their doctor, a licensed health care provider, or organization such as La Leche League about alternative breastfeeding options and resources."
For a safer alternative, the researchers recommended milk banks because donors receive proper instructions and the milk is pasteurized, limiting the risk of bacterial illness.
The researchers encourage women who have extra breastmilk to consider donating it to a milk bank where the milk can be handled properly and ensure it goes to a baby who badly needs it, rather than selling it.
Related Topics: Breastfeeding
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