April 25, 2018

Buying Breast Milk Online Likely to Cause Illness in Infants

A study conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that more than 3/4 of breast milk samples purchased online contain pathogenic bacteria. The problems that caused the contamination were poor collection, storage, and/or shipping practices.

Powdered Infant FormulaBreast milk, like other protein-rich foods, is an ideal environment for bacterial growth.  If not properly handled and stored, these products are easily contaminated with dangerous bacteria. And the trend of buying breast milk online has been growing; apparently  in 2011, 13,000 offers for buying human breast milk were on milk sharing websites in the United States.

Dr. Sarah A. Keim, principle investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health, said in a statement, “we were surprised so many samples had such high bacterial counts and even fecal contamination in the milk, most likely from poor hand hygiene. We were also surprised a few samples contained Salmonella. Other harmful bacteria may have come from the use of either unclean containers or unsanitary breast milk pump parts.”

The scientists looked at 101 samples purchased online and compared the results to 20 samples purchased from a milk bank. There are twelve non-profit milk banks in this country that follow the Human Milk Banking Association of North America guidelines and provide pasteurized milk from screened donors. The milk is used to feed fragile and sick babies. Milk purchased online is not pasteurized, but even before pasteurization, the milk bank samples were less likely to contain bacteria, most likely because of proper handling.

Researchers found that the longer the shipping time, the more contaminated the milk. Almost 20% of private sellers didn’t pack the milk with a cooling method. Private sellers didn’t include information about screening for diseases transmissible by milk, hygienic handling standards, or proper storage practices.

Dr. Keim said, “major milk-sharing websites post a lot of guidance about milk collection, storage, shipping and provider screening. However, results from this study showed sellers do not often folllow this advice because hygiene and shipping practices were often compromised. Based on our research, it is not safe to buy breast milk online, and the FDA recommends against sharing milk obtained in that way. Recipients are not able to determine for sure if the milk has been tampered with, or contains harmful drugs or pharmaceuticals, or if the information the provider supplied about their health was truthful.” Milk banks are a safer alternative. “Our goal is to identify infant feeding practices that optimize child and maternal health,” Dr. Keim continued.

 

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