Breast Milk Debate

The best food for a newborn baby is its mother’s breast milk. Loaded with probiotics, antibodies, and the perfect blend of hydration, fat, protein, and nutrients, a mother’s breast milk provides everything a baby needs to thrive for the first year of its life. But what happens when a mother isn’t able to provider her baby with breast milk?

The second best option, especially for premature and newborn babies, is to use a donor’s breast milk. The key is finding donor milk that is safe and sanitary, and studies are showing this is not the case for breast milk purchased from unregulated online sources.

Women have been donating or selling their breast milk for millennia

The idea of using one woman’s ample milk supply to feed another woman’s baby is not a new idea. In fact, women have worked as wet nurses for thousands of years, physically nursing other women’s babies. In some cases, this was due to medical reasons preventing a woman from being able to nurse her baby. In others, it was due to societal stigmas, which mandated that women of “good breeding” didn’t nurse their own babies.

In this day in age, the wet nurse idea has given way to milk donation due to the advent of breast pumps. Using a breast pump, women with ample milk supplies can bag their extra milk and donate it or sell it online. Milk banks have been established to test the milk for safety purposes, and pasteurize it to prevent harmful contaminants from being transferred to the infant recipient.

Studies show the majority of breast milk sold online has high levels of harmful contaminants

Breast milk is a body fluid, just like blood or saliva. As such, it has the ability to infect an individual it comes in contact with. Researchers from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Ohio State University and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center purchased breast milk samples online in order to test them for harmful contaminants. They found that 74% of the breast milk samples they tested had high levels of contaminants, some of which could cause serious infections or illnesses.

They found bacteria that could cause meningitis or pneumonia. As many as 64% of the breast milk samples were contaminated with staphylococcus, a common bacteria that can cause serious complications, ranging from skin infections to septicemia. Another finding – many of the breast milk samples were contaminated by fecal matter.

When a woman pumps her breast milk, it is important that she is eating a healthy diet, that breast and nipple tissues are clean and breast pump equipment is properly sterilized. There is a very particular protocol for transferring breast milk from the pumping receptacles into sterilized storage equipment, as well as ideal storage requirements. Any lapse in this protocol can result in contaminated milk.

The conclusion of the study, which is being published in the medical journal, Pediatrics, is:

“…it is not safe to buy breast milk online, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends against sharing milk obtained in that way. Recipients are not able to determine for sure if the milk has been tampered with, or contains harmful drugs or pharmaceuticals, or if the information the provider supplied about their health was truthful.”

Breast milk banks provide a safe alternative for mothers and babies

If your baby has been born prematurely, or you want to have a fall back plan in case something interferes with your own breast milk production, begin researching milk bank alternatives to protect the health of your baby. You can contact Overlake OBGYN for more information.

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