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Bacteria found in breast milk sold on Internet

Dr. Sapna Parikh reports on the new study
October 21, 2013 1:54:54 PM PDT
A warning about the dangers of buying breast milk online. Researchers found that there's a good chance that milk is tainted with bacteria and viruses, and the levels were high enough to make a baby sick.

Breastfeeding may be best, but for a lot of moms, it's easier said than done.

"To not be able to provide that when it's supposed to be something so natural, is incredibly frustrating," said Dina Friedler.

More women are going online to buy breast milk. But the claims of "healthy fresh frozen milk" may not be true.

A new study in the journal pediatrics looks at about 100 samples of breast milk from 2 popular milk-sharing websites.

  • 21% contained cmv-- a virus known to cause neurological problems.
  • 74% of the contained high levels of bacteria

    "The kinds of bacteria were actually concerning. They were seeing coliform bacteria, staphylococcal bacteria- coliform bacteria is really concerning because that represents some sort of fecal contamination," said Dr. Michelle Medina.

    The researchers say the contamination is because of poor collection, storage or shipping practices.

    But as the owner of the Upper Breast Side, a breast feeding resource for women, Felina says women often turn to the internet or to each other.

    "You're potentially gonna go online and talk to women online who may have extra milk and no room in their freezer," said Felina Rakowski-Gallagher.

    But the FDA recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the internet because the donor is not likely to have been screened for infectious disease or contamination risk.

    The only other option, breast milk banks. The human milk banking association of North America- which operates 13 non profit breast milk banks says it screens all donors.

    Breast milk only dispensed after heat processing has destroyed any bacteria or viruses, but there is a cost for that milk and it's not always available.

    You need a prescription to get breast milk from a bank and usually the demand is higher than the supply

    New York is one of 3 states that regulates milk from breast banks, but there is no regulation of online breast milk websites.

    "If you are somebody who wants to access these sites and thinking about procuring milk from these websites you really have to think about that- how safe is this product that i am going to feed to my baby?" adds Dr. Medina.

    The benefits of breastfeeding are well established, and breastfeeding is strongly recommended by healthcare professionals and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, the FDA recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet because the donor is not likely to have been 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 FDA recommends that if, after consultation with a healthcare provider, you decide to feed a baby with human milk from a source other than the baby's mother, you should only use milk from a source that has screened its milk donors and taken other precautions to increase the safety of the milk, including appropriate handling, storage, and pasteurization.

    For more information:
    LINK: http://www.fda.gov/scienceresearch/specialtopics/pediatrictherapeuticsresearch/ucm235203.htm

    FULL STATEMENT FROM Human Milk Banking Association of North America:
    Human milk is a body fluid, and as such, it contains bacteria and viruses present in the donor's body or environment.

    The Pediatrix study found similar bacteria and viruses in both donated milk and informally shared milk; however the colony counts are much higher in the informally shared milk reflecting improper expression, storage, and transport of the milk. These higher colony counts present a potential danger to a baby receiving this milk. Milk banks pasteurize the milk and dispense it only when there is no longer any bacteria present.

    Kim Updegrove, CNM, MSN, MPH President, Human Milk Banking Association of North America

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