Study Shows that Nearly 75% of Donated Breast Milk May be Contaminated

donorWe have often heard that “breast is best” when it comes to feeding your baby, and while much research supports that, many mothers cannot feed their baby without some sort of supplementation. Some mothers, myself included, turn to formula to help supplement low supply when needed. And for me, and I imagine many others, it’s at least partly a monetary decision.

Other parents turn to donor milk, which can be purchased at a number of places, both online and through milk banks nationwide at a higher cost. While cost is a part of the reason I chose formula for my son, the result of this most recent study was another part.

Sarah Keim, who does research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, recently looked at the contents and safety of donated breast milk. The group anonymously purchased 101 samples of milk from and tested them for contaminants.

Of the 101 samples, 72 of them were contaminated. They found bacteria, including staphylococcus, streptococcus, and cytomegalovirus, which can cause severe illness of premature or immunocompromised infants. The study reported that the contamination was likely the result of issues relating to the collection of the milk, how it was stored, or how it was shipped.

These findings support what the FDA and AAP have both stated about how women should not feed their infants donor milk from the internet or directly from another individual due to concerns about contamination and safety.

While I find the results of this study to be very troubling and essentially confirming one of my major fears about donor milk, I don’t think it’s fair to generalize this study to all donor milk, because certainly, that is not likely the case. There are milk banks that have strict testing policies, and when the tests are failed, they pasteurize the milk before selling/donating it to reduce the bacterial load. There are others that test and dispose of contaminated milk.

But I think the takeaway from this study is to be concerned and discerning about donated milk. Breast milk is the best nutrition for babies, but only if it’s safe and clean. And there are places where that can be found, for a price, but there has to be a risk/benefit analysis done on the part of every parent. If purchasing donor milk, or even receiving it for free, is putting your child in danger, either due to excessive cost or potential contaminants due to lack of testing or unknown handling, it just isn’t worth the health benefit.

Feeding children is rife with emotions, especially (unfortunately) guilt and worry, but we have to make sure that we’re putting an emphasis on safely feeding our children above all else, regardless of whether the milk comes from the breast or a can.


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