The market for human breast milk is booming on the Internet, but a recent study has shown that online breast milk might not always be safe for your baby.
Websites offering the sale or donation of human breast milk are popping up everywhere, catering to moms who can’t breastfeed for many different reasons, including having medically fragile premature babies. The benefits of human breast milk are well established. Studies have shown that breast milk can prevent diseases and reduce the chances of obesity in children, just to name a few. Because of its profound benefits, human breast commands a high price, as much as $2 an ounce or more.
The sale or donation of breast milk, however, isn’t regulated by the government, so there is no accepted safety standards for collecting and storing human breast milk. To assess the safety of breast milk, a recent study backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) purchased breast milk from a popular milk sharing website and analyzed the samples for bacterial contamination. Of the samples collected, 74 percent were contaminated due to poor collection, storage, and shipping methods.
Because of the risk of contamination, the FDA strongly recommends against feeding babies breast milk from individuals other than the baby’s mother or from websites set up to buy, sell, or donate breast milk. Even milk given by a friend could pose a health risk if the donor is not screened for disease and the milk is not collected and stored very carefully.
So what options do parents have? The FDA recommends that you first talk to your doctor. If together you agree that human breast milk is best for your baby, your doctor can help you find a safe source. Fortunately, there are milk banks all over the country that have strict policies in place to ensure safe breast milk for the infants they serve. They test donors for disease, test milk for safety, and store milk properly so it is safe and healthy once it reaches the baby in need.
To find a milk bank near you, or to learn about how to donate milk, which is greatly in need, you can contact the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, December 2018
- There is a high demand for human breast milk.
- Many websites have been set up where people can buy, sell, and donate breast milk.
- Because human milk is not regulated, it can often be contaminated due to unsafe collection, storage and shipping practices.
- The safest way to get breast milk is from a milk bank that screens donors and tests milk for safety.