Most of the breast milk sold over the Internet is
contaminated with bacteria, a new study suggests.
Researchers tested 101 milk samples they bought on milk
sharing websites. They found that almost three quarters probably weren't safe
for babies, especially preemies.
Those sites have thousands of ads from people selling breast
milk, often new mothers who make more than their baby needs. The milk typically
sells for R9.84 or R19.68 per ounce. "If you buy milk on the Internet, you
have no idea what you're getting," said Sarah Keim.
She led the study at
The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus,
Ohio. "A buyer would just have no way of being able to know with the
information they have whether that milk is safe." Keim said she and her
colleagues had noticed milk sharing websites popping up over the past few
For the new study, they responded to 495 ads placed on two
of those sites and ended up purchasing and analysing 101 batches of milk. 74%
of the samples either had disease-causing bacteria like E. coli or harmful
levels of bacteria, such as Streptococci.
In either of those instances, "You just shouldn't feed
that raw to a baby," Keim said. The study did not determine whether all
the contaminated milk would make babies sick. But the researchers said it could
be risky, particularly for preemies and other infants with higher than average
risks for medical problems.
Potentially harmful bacteria
The US Food and Drug Administration recommend against
feeding babies milk bought over the Internet, but doesn't regulate its sale.
Researchers said human milk always contains some bacteria, even before it comes
out of the breast. "It's totally normal for milk to have bacteria in it,
and there are bacteria in milk that are extremely important for babies to build
their immune and digestive systems," Keim told Reuters Health.
"Those are not
the bacteria that we looked at." Milk samples that spent more time in
transit were more likely to contain potentially harmful bacteria. But sellers'
claims that they were healthy or their milk was safe did not predict which
samples actually had potentially harmful bacteria.
None of the shipped breast milk tested positive for HIV, the
virus that causes AIDS. But one in five samples had traces of cytomegalovirus,
which can cause disease in babies with weak immune systems.
The researchers also looked at 20 milk samples that had been
donated to a milk bank for comparison. Seven of those contained disease-causing
bacteria, according to the findings published in Paediatrics. Dr Ekhard
Ziegler said he believes it's too early to tell parents to avoid purchasing
milk at all costs. "Am I concerned about the recipients? Somewhat,
yes," Ziegler, director of the Fomon Infant Nutrition Unit at the
University of Iowa in Iowa City, said.
But, he added, "What we need now is someone studying
the recipients of internet milk, (to see) whether there is any indication that
they have more illness." Ziegler was not involved in the new research. He
told Reuters Health he has seen a baby who developed sepsis from milk it
received from its own mother that was heavily contaminated with bacteria. Keim
and her colleagues chose not to name the websites they used to order milk.
Safety centred approach
Administrators of one site that facilitates the sale of
milk, www.onlythebreast.com, told Reuters Health this weekend that they
recognise the problem and are trying to address it. "We have made the
decision to transition away from offering breast milk classified ads and in the
near future completely remove them with the goal (of stopping) all... activities
related to informal milk sharing," the site's administrators said in a
statement. "We are convinced," they wrote, "that a more safety
centred approach must be taken to secure milk sharing."
consideration, we will be shifting our focus from mother to mother internet
sales to helping qualified only the Breast donors provide milk to a new milk
banking program. The company says it will screen its donors and process
their milk in partnership with Medolac Laboratories.Keim said women who have
trouble breastfeeding should turn to a paediatrician or lactation consultant for
support rather than looking elsewhere for human milk.
"Women who are making extra milk should know they can
donate to a milk bank, where the milk will go directly to premature babies in
hospitals," she said.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive
breastfeeding without any formula or solid food until a baby is six months old,
followed by breastfeeding with the addition of appropriate foods through age