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Breast milk sold online contains high levels of bacteria, new study shows

By Robynn Garfield | Posted - Oct 21st, 2013 @ 3:35pm



SALT LAKE CITY— A new study released by the National Children’s Hospital on Monday shows an alarmingly high amount of harmful bacteria found in human breast milk sold online.

The study, lead by researcher Sarah Keim, found that almost 75 percent of breast milk tested from the milk selling site Only the Breast.com contained disease-causing bacteria and germs similar to those found in human fecal matter.

In recent years, a few breast milk ‘brokerages’ have cropped up online. Many mothers, unable to breastfeed, are turning to these sites to buy breast milk for their babies. Keim said these mothers may not always be receiving the highest quality product.

“I can’t think of something you can buy online where you have less ability to validate the quality,” Keim said in an NBC News interview. “Even frozen milk was just as contaminated as thawed milk. There wasn’t a whole lot recipients can rely on to know that it’s OK.”

To conduct the study, researchers collected over 100 samples of breast milk from sellers on Only the Breast.com. Of the 101 samples tested, Keim said 72 had amounts of bacteria high enough that they would not have met the standards set by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, or HMBANA. HMBANA uses breastmilk primarily for premature and high-risk infants and employs strict screening and processing methods for donors.

Kim Updegrove is the president of HMBANA. She told NBC she wishes people would view breast milk like they would other bodily fluids.

“I long to have people view this the way that they view blood products,” she said. “You would never say, ‘I’m a little bit anemic,’ and hand off the tubing.”

The FDA warns parents against buying breast milk from unknown online sources.

“When human milk is obtained directly from individuals or through the Internet, the donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk” the website reads. “In addition, it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby.”

Megan Keller works with the local chapter of the national breast milk sharing group Human Milk 4 Human Babies. She said the group always encourage parents to get to know their donor, and to make sure the milk they are receiving has been properly stored and sanitized.

“Many recipients flash pasteurize their milk before they use it on their babies,” Keller said. “Sanitation is always a consideration when preparing any food product and milk absolutely falls into this category.”

Keller said she does not encourage parents to buy breast milk, but rather to use it through donation groups like HM4HB.

“When you put money into the transaction people may have ulterior motives,” Keller said. “We encourage meeting the people and forming relationships.”

In response to the study, Only the Breast.com founder Glenn Snow said the site is working to move away from breast milk classifieds.

"We have made the decision to transition away from offering breast milk classified ads and in the near future completely remove them,” Snow said in a statement reported by NBCnews.com.

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