Internet Breast Milk ‘Not Safe,’ Says Study
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Some mothers of newborn infants who have problems producing their own breast milk have turned to the Internet for a solution – buying breast milk from any number of online vendors.
The milk acquired from these online sources may not always be entirely safe. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found that over 75 percent of breast milk samples bought over the Internet have bacteria that can cause sickness. Many of the samples acquired by researchers showed signs of poor collection, storage or shipping habits.
“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,” said study author Sarah A. Keim, a pediatrician at the Center for Biobehavioral Health. “Other harmful bacteria may have come from the use of either unclean containers or unsanitary breast milk pump parts.”
According to the center, the new study is the first to look at the safety of breast milk on the Internet, a development that has become more prevalent in the past several years. Study researchers say they aren’t sure how much breast milk is being bought and sold online, but previous research has found 13,000 postings were placed on American websites in 2011. Many of these posting were classified ads on websites discussing the breast milk they wanted to sell or why they were looking for the milk.
The research team responded to postings from sellers who did not inquire about a child receiving milk and who did not need a phone call before a transaction was completed. In total, the study researchers included over 100 samples purchased online and these were compared 20 breast milk samples obtained from a milk bank.
Twelve non-profit milk banks follow the Human Milk Banking Association of North America guidelines in the US. The banks provide pasteurized breast milk from carefully screened donors to weak and sick infants. The pasteurization process kills harmful bacteria before the milk ever reaches an infant. Study researchers found that milk bank samples were less likely to have several kinds of bacteria and had lower bacterial growth – even before pasteurization.
The researchers also saw suspect shipping practices from online breast milk vendors. The greater the shipping time, the more contaminated the milk tended to be. Almost 1 in 5 sellers did not pack the milk with dry ice or another cooling method, resulting in the temperature of the milk being outside of recommended range for storage. The scientists also found considerably high levels of one or more kinds of bacteria in 17 percent of the samples.
Finally, the team noted that vendors often did not provide information about their hygienic milk handling or storage practices, screening for diseases or the milk-producer(s) use of illegal or legal drugs.
“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 follow this advice because hygiene and shipping practices were often compromised,” Keim said.
“Based on our research, it is not safe to buy breast milk online, and the Food and Drug Administration 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.”
She added that milk banks are a safer choice for mothers who cannot properly provide milk, because donors get proper instructions and the milk is pasteurized, limiting the risk of bacterial illness.