A study published Monday in Pediatrics
, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that breast milk sold online may contain harmful bacteria including salmonella.
The study renews health professionals’ concerns over milk-sharing sites. Researchers bought and tested 101 breast milk samples from one site and compared them to samples of donated, unpasteurized milk from a milk bank. Researchers found 74 percent of the online milk contained high amounts of bacteria. Children’s National Health System’s pediatrician Sahira Long, MD,
who is also a breastfeeding advocate, said the phenomenon – milk-sharing sites - is becoming more and more common. Many sites donate or sell breast milk.
"I haven’t breastfed in six and a half years – my son is 8 years old – and I don’t remember any hints of this when I was nursing, but only in the past couple of years has it become more common," Dr. Long said. Dr. Long added that the sites may have existed years ago, but were probably more underground and are now more public due to increased attention placed on the benefits of breast milk.
Dr. Long serves as the medical director of Children’s National’s two health centers both located on Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Avenue in southeast Washington, D.C. and president of the D.C. Breastfeeding Coalition
"Maybe the more attention, in general, breastfeeding is getting the more opportune time for this to develop," she said. "I have known people to share milk with friends they know and trust."USA Today
reported the study’s lead author Sarah Keim said her findings "may not apply to situations where milk is shared among friends or relatives or donated rather than sold. The potential risks of those situations are less well understood."
There are 13 milk banks in the U.S. and Canada that follow the rules established by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
"They have very rigorous screening, the level of scrutiny they place on their donors and the process they go through for pasteurization before the milk is shipped out," Dr. Long said.
Neither milk-sharing websites nor milk banks are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But freestanding milk banks in the country follow guidelines for screening, collecting, pasteurizing, handling and distributing breast milk, Dr. Long said, making the milk more expensive.
She said "it’s easier to find breast milk online" and mentioned that there is "more demand from milk banks than they can meet." But either way the threat of contamination exists, she said, as with any human fluid.
"The risk is partially abated by milk banks by pasteurizing the milk," Dr. Long said.
Dr. Long said news reports she read Monday indicated that the contamination occurred in the collection and storage of milk. Bacteria mentioned, such as staph and strep, come from the skin and E. coli. from the intestinal tract, reflecting a need for hand washing.
"Salmonella should never be found in breast milk. … Salmonella is not found on the skin or in the intestinal tract," Dr. Long said.
In 2010, the FDA warned
against using milk obtained from individuals through the Internet because the "donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk. In addition, it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby."
The American Academy of Pediatrics
(AAP) also cautions against feeding babies breast milk acquired from individuals or over the Internet.
According to the study, published in an AAP journal; collection, storage, and shipping practices by websites contributed to bacterial growth. Study authors recommend "lactation support for mothers who want to provide breast milk to their infants but who have difficulty making enough. Women who have extra milk should consider donating to a milk bank," according to a news release
from AAP. Dr. Long said she was happy to see the websites agree to change the way they operate.
"The benefits of breast milk, however you obtain it, far outweigh formula," Dr. Long said. The U.S. Office on Women’s Health lists some of the benefits of breastfeeding:
- Breastfed babies typically get sick less; children who were breastfed have a lower rate of certain illnesses as they grow up.
- Babies can see moms more closely, helping in the bonding between mother and child. Breastfeeding allows the mom’s body to recover from pregnancy and childbirth more quickly; breastfeeding may help moms lose weight.
- Breastfeeding exposes babies to many different tastes, helping transition to solid foods.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer in moms.
- Breastfeeding can save a family more than $1,200 to $1,500 in formula-related expenses in a child’s first year.