From the “Well Duh!” files: a new study found that a whopping 70 percent of breast milk sold to moms on a public milk-sharing forum was contaminated with all kinds of yuck that could put babies in serious danger.
Researchers’ analysis of 100 samples of breast milk purchased on an unnamed public milk-sharing website found three in four samples contained either disease-causing bacteria, including fecal contamination, or high levels of bacterial growth overall. The findings were likely the result of poor hygiene during milk collection, the use of either unclean containers or unsanitary breast milk pump parts, or compromised shipping practices, like sending unrefrigerated milk sans dry ice or some other kind of cooling method, says epidemiologist Sarah Keim, lead author of the study in November’s Pediatrics. The study was published online yesterday and reported by USA Today.
Researchers compared the online-purchased breast milk samples to samples of unpasteurized breast milk donated to a non-profit milk bank, the latter of which follows strict guidelines set by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America and provides pasteurized milk from carefully screened donors to fragile and premature infants, primarily in hospitals. Pasteurization kills the harmful bacteria before the milk reaches an infant.
Keim pointed out that it’s perfectly normal for some bacteria to be in human breast milk—the kind that’s important and healthy for babies and the development of their immune and digestive systems. But the stew of bacteria found in the milk sold on the internet also has been associated with illnesses in infants—the kind that could take a baby all the way out. Of the milk Keim and her team tested:
- 72% had any detectable gram-negative bacteria, which are associated with bloodstream infections, wound or surgical site infections, meningitis and fecal contamination vs. 35% of milk bank samples
- 63% tested positive for staphylococcus vs. 25% of milk bank samples
- 36% tested positive for streptococcus vs. 20% of milk bank samples
- 3% were contaminated with salmonella vs. none of the milk bank samples.
None of the milk tested positive for HIV, but Keim said her team will be researching next just how much of the breast milk sold on the internet is even breast milk. In other words, God knows what the hell the women who buy from those popular online breast milk sharing sites are actually putting into their babies’ precious bellies.
MyBrownBaby raised an eyebrow about the practice a few years ago, when Kia Morgan Smith penned the controversial piece, “Would You Buy Someone Elses Breast Milk And Feed It To Your Baby? Um, Not Me.” In it, she acknowledged the desperation some moms feel when they can’t breast feed but want to feed their children that liquid gold—mother’s milk. Still, she wrote, it’s a risky proposition—one that just didn’t make sense. Witness her words:
Let’s be real: There are some real creeps out there who just want the money. They could have a drug needle in one and a breast pump on their 36 D shooting up poison while pumping out juice that will make them a real cash cow! Would I feed that to my baby? No thank you ma’am.
Why would I want milk from a perfect stranger who I have no documentation on? All kinds of questions would be packed in those bottles: Are the donating moms clean? Do they wash well? What do they eat and put into their bodies? What diseases could they possibly already have in their body that they could pass on to my vulnerable baby? How do buying moms know whether the selling moms are heavy drinkers, smokers or drug addicts? These are normal questions I think most moms would ask if they are considering buying breast milk over the Internet.
Welp. She said that. *In my Tamar voice*
How do you get breast milk to your baby if you can’t make any on your own? MyBrownBaby’s favorite pediatrician, Dr. Ivor Horn, weighed in on Kia’s post, encouraging mothers looking for breast milk for their babies to consult the Human Milk Banking Association of America to connect with certified milk banks throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Other lactation experts suggested that getting breast milk from a site where people donate it rather than sell it would go a long way in assuring that donors are giving their breast milk for solid reasons, rather than for the sole purpose of making a quick buck.
Frankly, the idea that women would put bodily liquids from strangers into their babies mouths still confounds me. It’s just common sense, but you know what my mother used to say? Common sense ain’t common.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.