What do you do if you adopt a baby or can't breast feed, but want your baby to get the best possible start in life? A lot of parents have turned to websites that sell human breast milk. It sounds like the perfect solution... until you look into the risks. Human breast milk sold online may be contaminated with high levels of bacteria and could be potentially dangerous to newborns. Just when you think you're doing the best thing for your baby, you could do more harm than good by exposing your baby to harmful contaminants.
In a new study, researchers looked at 101 samples of unpasteurized breast milk bought from various websites; 74 percent of those samples were so contaminated, they wouldn't have passed the Human Milk Banking Association's criteria for feeding with unpasteurized breast milk. 64 percent of the samples tested positive for staphylococcus and a few samples were contaminated with salmonella.
But wait, isn't there such a thing as "good" bacteria -- the kind that helps fight infection? Yes, says Sarah Keim, the leader of the study. "It's important to point out that it's totally normal for breast milk to have bacteria in it." In fact, that's why some parents choose unpasteurized breast milk. But Keim says that without knowing exactly what kind of bacteria you're getting, it's too high a risk for babies, especially pre-term babies and infants with medical issues. In fact, it's not just the bacteria -- breast milk sold online could be contaminated with HIV, for example.
You really cannot assume that the milk you buy online is safe. The milk from milk banks is relatively safe, but it's in short supply and almost all goes directly to infants in NICUs. Everyone else is left navigating the Wild West of breast milk Websites -- dangerous territory, partners.
Some states have mandatory safety standards for the milk sold by breast milk websites. But the FDA does not regulate human breast milk sold on the Internet. They recommend parents not risk it at all at this point. But if you're determined, they recommend you talk over the safety issues with your child's pediatrician. Find a source that screens its donors and has clearly stated, transparent safety protocols.
In other words, it doesn't sound worth the risk. You'll find yourself spending long hours searching for information online, sending emails, calling, trying to find the safest source of breast milk -- time you could spend bonding with your formula-fed baby. And you could still end up with contaminated milk. I think as long as there isn't clear, enforceable safety criteria for all human breast milk sold on the internet you're probably better off not taking the risk.
If you could afford it, would you dare to buy human breast milk online?
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