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The Dangers of Buying Breast Milk Online

Written by Melanie Mouzoon, M.D., F.A.A.P. on Apr 11, 2015 10:27:00 AM

Breastfeeding provides so many natural benefits for your baby, but for some moms, breastfeeding is not an option – even after consultations with lactation specialists. Faced with the realization that they cannot breastfeed their child, some new moms are now turning to the internet for help. You want what’s best for your baby – that’s why it is so important to know that buying breast milk, especially online, is almost never in the best interest of your child. The online purchase of breast milk is not regulated and therefore poses several potential threats to your newborn.

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Unknown Donors Mean Unknown Problems

As with anything that is intended to be ingested, there are certain physical properties of breast milk that must be maintained for it to be safe for consumption. Recently, a researched purchased 100 random breast milk samples from individuals over the internet to test the process. The breast milk was checked for packaging, temperature, bacterial growth, disease and to ensure that the milk was not adulterated with any other product, such as goat’s milk, cow’s milk or water. The results were troubling. 

  • Many of the samples were adulterated with cow’s milk, goat’s milk, water, or were not breast milk at all.
  • The majority of the samples came at a temperature that was not suitable for consumption. Only a few were shipped with dry ice or sufficient insulation.
  • Packaging on many of the samples had leaked, and in some cases most of the product was gone by the time it arrived.
  • Often, the samples had been in transit for too long to be considered safe.
  • The majority of the samples tested positively for bacterial growth.

Disease Potential Is High

In addition to these potential threats, giving your baby breast milk from someone you do not know opens them up to additional health threats, such as Cytomegaloirus, or CMV, which is a virus that causes mono-like symptoms and can result in serious consequences for babies, such as deafness. This particular virus passes very easily through breast milk. If a breastfeeding mother had this virus, she would pass on antibodies for it to her baby and the baby would potentially be safe; however, if the virus is introduced to your baby from a mother whose milk you purchased over the internet, your baby would be extremely susceptible to this very serious virus. 

Considering Other Options

It’s a hit or miss process, to say the least, and not worth the risk. It is unlikely you would be able to carry out the appropriate tests at home to check that the milk is suitable for your baby. If you cannot breastfeed, though, there are other options.

Probably the best way to acquire breast milk from another mother would be to get it from someone you know and trust who is willing to go have lab work done to check for viruses or diseases. This is ultimately the same thing as wet nursing, which is a long-standing tradition that has saved many an infant’s life, except the wet nurse in this case would be someone you know who has had appropriate lab work done. 

Another option is to purchase the milk from a reputable milk bank. These most often distribute milk to hospitals for preterm babies whose mothers cannot nurse for various reasons, but some will provide milk to other infants with a prescription from a doctor.

A third option is to purchase breast milk from the Mother’s Milk Cooperative, an organization that pays breast milk donors who are screened for infection and pasteurizes the milk before packaging it for sale.

The bottom line is that if you’re going to be purchasing breast milk for your baby, make sure you know where it’s coming from. 

 

Mouzoon_MelanieDr. Melaine Mouzoon, M.D., F.A.A.P., is a pediatric hospitalist and managing physician of immunization practices and travel medicine at Kelsey-Seybold. She is an advocate for supporting new moms in achieving successful breastfeeding and in helping new dads to become involved in the care and emotional support of their children.

Topics: Breastfeeding, breastfeeding problems, breastfeeding questions answered, breast milk, online milk banks, mother's milk cooperative

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