Online shopping, in many cases, seems to be the way to go; it’s faster, cheaper and more convenient for the consumer than visiting the store. But, a study published in the May 2015 issue of Pediatrics shows convenience isn’t always best, especially when it comes to your infant’s health.
There are many reasons a mother may turn to purchasing breast milk. In the case of a premature birth, mothers may not be producing enough breast milk. In addition to lower production due to an early birth, the stress and shock that a mother feels after giving birth pre-term can be exacerbated by the requirements of expressing breast milk at all hours of the day and night. In many of these cases, a mother may think to buy breast milk online.
Online human milk donation and sharing has become more popular in recent years with an estimated 13,000 advertisements popping up annually on popular seller sites. Some mothers turn to the internet to obtain breast milk because purchasing it from milk banks can be expensive. Prices often range from three to five dollars an ounce, leading some people to refer to the commodity as “liquid gold.” Although many sellers may be posting and donating altruistically, not everyone has the purest of intentions, as proven by this new study.
Researchers tested 102 samples from donor milk advertised online and found that 1 in 10 samples were contaminated with cow’s milk. Of the 11 total samples which contained bovine DNA, 10 had enough contamination to be considered non-accidental. This contamination poses a large and dangerous risk to infants who may have an allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk. Additionally, the researchers found that nearly all of the bags of milk they purchased online arrived without meeting the correct temperature requirements for breast milk and that 75 percent of the samples had high levels of bacterial contamination or detectable levels of disease-causing pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. coli, which would make the milk unsafe for infant consumption.
Unlike milk bank systems that follow the criteria set by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), online sharing systems do not usually include the rigorous screening and pasteurization required by HMBANA banks. Without proof of regulated and monitored screening, the risks and dangers in receiving contaminated and sometimes infected human breast milk are present.
The bottom line is that when you purchase breast milk online, you don’t know if the milk you are receiving is safe. The risks of inadequate screening and pasteurization include viral and bacterial infection and remind us about the reality that some potentially-transmitted viruses and diseases are asymptomatic. Talk to your infant’s pediatrician about if you have any questions and you are not able to produce enough milk to feed your baby. You can also consult lactation support organizations for advice. Though we often hear “breast is best,” it is safer to supplement your baby’s nutrition with formula than unscreened donor milk.
Since January 2009, all infants at Texas Children’s Hospital weighing less than 3 pounds are fed specially tested, processed and pasteurized donor breast milk if their mothers are unable to provide enough of their own breast milk. As a result of this initiative, we had a large drop in our incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a devastating intestinal disorder, from the national average of 12% down to just 2-3%.
Whether your child is a patient in Texas Children’s NICU, a premature infant at another hospital or a healthy baby, try to take advantage of lactation support services in your area. The importance of mother’s milk to the health and development of newborn babies is priceless.