Breast Isn’t Always Best: Study Shows As Much As 64% of Breast Milk Sold Online Is Tainted

milk“Buyers have no way of knowing even what they’re getting — it could be cow’s milk or formula.”

And it could be tainted with salmonella…

Consider yourself warned. Breast isn’t always best, apparently, when it comes to ordering human breast milk on the Internet.

As The New York Times reports, a study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that chaos seems to reign in the unregulated breast milk marketplace.

The report found that breast milk bought from two popular “milk-sharing” sites is often contaminated with high levels of bacteria. Bacteria like salmonella. Enough to make a baby really sick.

Dr. Sarah Keim, a researcher at the Center for Biobehavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is the study’s lead author. She and her colleagues collected 101 samples from the milk-sharing sites, making sure to note the sellers’ claims about their health and how they handled and stored the breast milk. The group then analyzed the milk and compared it to unpasteurized breast milk from screened donors at milk banks that follow guidelines set up by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. What they found is shocking. According to The NY Times:

The researchers found that 64 percent of the samples from milk-sharing sites were contaminated with staph, 36 percent with strep, and almost three-quarters with other bacterial species. Three of the samples contained salmonella. Seventy-four percent of the samples would have failed milk bank criteria. The unpasteurized milk bank samples were not entirely free of contamination either, but they were considerably cleaner than those from the online milk-sharers — 25 percent were contaminated with staph, 20 percent with strep, and 35 percent with other types of bacteria. Twenty-five percent of the milk bank samples contained no detectable bacteria at all, compared with 9 percent of the samples from milk-sharing sites.

While the milk from milk banks is a lot safer and got high marks from Dr. Keim, it’s hard to come by. Donors and donations have to be screened and the milk must be pasteurized before it’s shipped to the buyers. But that milk is gonna cost you – as much as $6 an ounce. Multiply that by the 25 ounces a day the average 1-month-old gulps down and you’re talking big bucks. Plus, milk banks give priority to premature infants with significant medical complications, and the milk is available only by prescription. That’s why the milk-sharing websites like and do such big business. Dr. Keim says that there are more than 13,000 postings on the four leading milk-sharing web sites.

Kim Updegrove, president of the milk bank association, isn’t a fan of informal sharing of breast milk. “If you get milk from an unscreened sharer, you put your child at risk…I hate to say this to an informal sharer, because they are trying to do good. But they are playing a game of Russian roulette.”

Dr. Richard A. Polin, director of neonatology and perinatology at Columbia University, agrees. He says sharing breast milk is never really a good idea. “This is a potential cause of disease. Even with a relative, it’s probably not a good idea to share.”

Makes you rethink the whole “breast is best” mantra, doesn’t it? Women feel so much pressure to give their babies breast milk that they’re turning to strangers on the Internet, basically playing a game of Russian roulette with the health of their child; the milk could be great but the risk of salmonella and other bacterias ain’t worth it when formulas are as good as they are these days. Formula is not a bad thing! It’s an amazing creation that helps those who aren’t able to give their baby breast milk for whatever reason.

I would never buy breast milk from a stranger, nor would I get it from someone I know. I would absolutely turn to formula. I’m grateful to have a product that I can turn to if I need help feeding my child. What about you? Thoughts? Has the “breast is best” mantra been taken too far? Would you/have you bought breast milk from someone for your baby? Why or why not?

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