Human waste bacteria found in breast milk purchased online

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Breast milk bought online
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In an analysis of 101 breast milk samples purchased online, researchers found 75 percent contained dangerous bacteria that can cause infants to become ill. Some of the breast milk contained fecal material from human waste in addition to other bacteria.

The finding that comes from samples of breast milk purchased by investigators of the Center for Biobehavioral Health at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital who purchased the milk online for testing in the lab.

The researchers also compared breast milk sold online to milk banks that pasteurize the milk and follow strict guidelines for screening, storage and shipment.

Buying breast milk online has become a fairly recent trend, according to the study authors.

The finding, published today and in the November issue of Pediatrics, is the first to examine whether selling breast milk to others on the Internet is safe.

Milk that is pasteurized is free from bacteria, but the finding showed even without pasteurization breast milk tested from twelve non-profit milk banks that follow the Human Milk Banking Association of North America guidelines was less likely to contain bacteria that can sicken infants than milk selling online.

Other bacteria found in online breast milk samples

Fecal bacteria wasn't the only type of germ found in the breast milk samples that Sarah A. Keim, PhD, principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health said probably came from poor hand hygiene.

“Other harmful bacteria may have come from the use of either unclean containers or unsanitary breast milk pump parts," Keim said, A surprise finding was that some of the samples also contained salmonella, Keim added.

Aside from lack of pasteurization, shipping practices were also suspected as a reason for bacteria in the milk.

Many of the samples shipped weren't cooled with dry ice or other alternative. Longer shipping time was associated with higher bacterial counts.

Unsavory online practices

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The researchers obtained the breast milk simply by responding online.

Online sellers of breast milk included information such as "I eat an organic diet” or “great quality” that the investigators say was no indication of the safety of the milk such as how it's handled or whether or not the seller uses any drugs or had any diseases.

Nor did the sellers ask questions about the infant receiving the milk. Milk banks sell the product to fragile and sick infants who are especially vulnerable to becoming even sicker.

"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,” said Dr. Keim in a press release.

Not mentioned in the current investigation, but worth considering, a 2011 study showed breast milk contains contaminants that can be passed to infants that come from the environment.

The study, titled "The Heart of the Matter on Breastmilk and Environmental Chemicals: Essential Points for Health Care Providers and New Parents," highlighted levels of PCB's and other contaminants like flame retardant found in mother's milk. When a mother gives breast milk from an unscreened donor there is no way to know any of the health risks she's giving her infant.

Interestingly, several online breast milk sites that we tried to find online have suddenly disappeared. Keim explains her findings in the video:

Breast is still best

Many mothers' share excess breast milk with family or friends. Keim said the current study doesn't necessarily apply to 'sharing' since the risks aren't known.

For moms' that are breast feeding their own infants, Keim emphasized how important it is to keep breast pumps clean, used strict hand-washing hygiene when handling and pumping milk for others and to keep the milk cold. Room temperature is fine for up to 6 hours only.

There is no question that breast milk has many benefits for infants. But the study highlights the importance of obtaining milk from a reputable place. Purchasing breast milk online could mean you're giving your infant milk contaminated with salmonella, disgusting fecal bacteria that comes from human waste and possibly more.

Related:

  1. Breastfeeding facts
  2. Cows could someday make human breast milk
  3. How to cope when you don't make enough breast milk

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