Buying Breast Milk Online? A Study Shows Increased Bacteria Risks

Photo: AU Women's Center Photo: AU Women's Center

With all the effort that goes into breastfeeding and especially pumping, every new mama knows she’s not about to let a single drop go to waste. After all, breastfeeding for baby’s first year can protect baby from infections and diseases, and reduce SIDS, diabetes and obesity risks.

That’s why mother’s milk has frequently been dubbed “liquid gold.” But not every mom can breastfeed. That’s why, these days, online sites catering to new moms are selling the stuff for up to $1,200 for a month’s supply. (And in the strange-but-true category, one New York City restaurateur was banned from serving breast milk cheese in his joint a few years ago!) Given the fact that not every mom can breastfeed — whether due to low supply or other issues — these milk banks can be lifesavers, especially for preemies who may not be able to handle formula.

But according a new study in the November issue of the journal of Pediatrics, 64 percent of milk samples obtained from a particular online commercial milk sales site was colonized by staphylococcous bacteria, as opposed to 25 percent of donated milk from a state-registered milk bank. And three of the 102 samples used in the study were also contaminated with Salmonella.

What does that mean for you and for baby? Beware the bacteria. The research suggests that these online sites selling breast milk could have poor quality control in the way milk is collected, preserved and shipped — which translates to higher contamination risk. That puts infants consuming this breast milk — especially preemies, whose immune systems may already be compromised — at a greater risk for sickness.

So, when it comes down to deciding whether or not you should buy breast milk online, Dr. Keim, faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, noted, “Major milk-sharing websites post a lot of guidance about milk collection, storage, shipping and provider screening. However, results from this study showed sellers do not often follow this advice because hygiene and shipping practices were often compromised. Based on our research, it is not safe to buy breast milk online, and the Food and Drug Administration recommends against sharing milk obtained in that way. Recipients are not able to determine for sure if the milk has been tampered with, or contains harmful drugs or pharmaceuticals, or if the information the provider supplied about their health was truthful.”

Did you buy breast milk online?

Plus, more from The Bump:

Should I Buy or Rent My Breast Pump?

How To: Buy a Breast Pump

Breastfeeding 101