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Breast milk probably shouldn't be bought and sold online

Unsurprising advice, really.

Image: Shutterstock/cheyennezj

Updated at 11am

IT MAY NOT be something that you were aware of, but mothers can buy human breast milk online through milk-sharing websites.

The practice has been denounced by a team at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the US after they produced some worrying results in a study of the products.

They found that 10% of samples tested were “topped off” with cow’s milk or instant formula. This, they say, confirms a danger for the large number of babies receiving the purchased milk due to medical conditions.

The latest study, published in the journal Pediatrics, highlights investigators’ concerns that “because money is exchanged in these transactions, there might be an incentive to boost milk volumes in order to make more money”.

Dr Sarah Keim, principal investigator in the Centre for Biobehavioral Health in the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s and lead author on the study, said: “Cow’s milk and infant formula resemble human milk and could potentially be added to boost volumes without the recipient knowing.

Mothers who consider purchasing breast milk over the Internet should beware – when you obtain milk from an unfamiliar source, you cannot know for sure that what you are getting is safe for your baby.

Her team purchased and tested 102 samples of breast milk advertised on milk-sharing websites.

All purchased samples did contain human milk, but 11 also contained bovine DNA, 10 of which had results consistent with more than minor, accidental contamination with cow’s milk. The findings suggest that a notable number of sellers intentionally added cow’s milk or infant formula to the breast milk.

“Pediatricians who care for infants should be aware that milk advertised as human is available via the Internet, and some of it may not be 100 percent human milk,” advised Dr. Keim.

And patients should be counseled against obtaining milk in this way for their infant.

In a recent survey conducted of 499 women, Dr Keim found up to a quarter of them considered milk sharing and almost 4% of women shared milk among friends or relatives or had a preterm infant who received donor milk.

She then suggested that women with extra milk could help a baby in need by donating their milk to a non-profit milk bank instead of selling it over the Internet.

“Women who have difficulty making enough milk for their child should work with their pediatrician to identify safe, healthy ways to feed their baby,” she said. “The risk of contamination and added cow’s milk makes it unsafe to purchase breast milk over the Internet.”

These babies are also vulnerable to the risk of infectious disease from bacterial and viral contamination of such milk, which was identified in a prior study by the same research team.

The team’s previous research found that 21% of individuals seeking human milk online did so for a child with a pre-existing medical condition. And 16% of these parents specifically sought out the purchased human milk due to their baby’s formula intolerance.

The US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning five years ago that unpasteurised human milk obtained from sources other than the baby’s mother could pose health risks.

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