Buying Breast Milk From Strangers Isn't Worth the Risk

breast milkOne of my clearest memories from the first year of my son's life is the day I put a bottle of my just-pumped breast milk down on the kitchen counter, and then reached for something (the cap, maybe?) and promptly knocked it over, spilling ounces of the "liquid gold" I'd worked so hard to produce. I cried. And then I cried some more. And then I didn't stop crying until my husband came along and said maybe it really was time to start supplementing my breast milk with formula.

My son was a constant and voracious nurser, pretty much perpetually at the breast, who rapidly went from barely on the weight charts to the top of them in what felt like no time flat. My milk supply, which later proved more than adequate for his younger sister, struggled to keep up with his demand. But, having read and heard all about the benefits of breastfeeding, I was determined to keep him on breast milk for as long as possible. Formula (even if only one supplementary bottle a day) felt like failure.


And so I understand the desperation of nursing mothers and their dedication to breast milk at all costs, but there's a new trend I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around: women who buy breast milk online from other women they don't know.

Doctors warn against the practice, citing dangers like the transmission of hepatitis and HIV. They note that it's much safer (though perhaps not easier) to get breast milk that has been treated and screened and properly handled at a hospital-based breast milk bank.

One doctor interviewed by Denver's KDVR TV had this to say to women who buy breast milk from unknown, unscreened sources online: "What are you, crazy? In all honesty, this is your baby’s life. Take it serious."

Clearly, it really is crazy to feed your newborn anything you're not sure of. Not to sound paranoid, but how can you be sure of what's really in that totally unregulated "breast milk" you're buying from a stranger? When there are other options (even if your own milk can't keep up and you aren't able to get breast milk from a known safe source like a hospital, the dreaded formula isn't THAT bad), it just doesn't make sense to take the risk.

And, correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't giving your kid someone else's breast milk sort of miss some of the key benefits of breastfeeding: the way your body uniquely adjusts to your child's changing nutritional needs, passes along your antibodies to help fight infection, and also helps you bond?

Still, I have a hard time with that doctor's suggestion that these women who buy breast milk online aren't taking their children's lives seriously. They may be making a poor decision, but I imagine they're making it with good intentions. We've all been so brainwashed that breast milk is the only way -- that to deny our children breast milk is practically to cheat them of their future -- that, in desperation, some women are clearly making choices that are not that carefully considered. Maybe, rather than offering these mothers derision, the medical community should instead offer them support.

What do you think of online breast milk exchanges?


Image via shingleback/Flickr

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