Doctors and health officials have long indicated benefits of feeding babies breast milk, including the ability to give babies a higher immunity from infections and diseases. However, some breast milk could be doing more harm than good for babies' health, according to a new study.
A study by Sarah A Keim, a researcher at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, published in the journal Pediatrics Monday, uncovered new information about breast milk sold or sent through online websites that has prompted great concern over the "milk-sharing" industry and the potential danger it poses to the infants who drink it.
The study found large amounts of bacteria, and in some cases, salmonella in the milk.
"Milk-sharing" is the termused to describe the process of donating or selling breast milk to other families. Mothers who can't produce milk and parents that have adopted children are just some of the people who rely on this means of getting breast milk.
The study took 100 samples of breast milk from two of the most well known "milk sharing" websites, sites that accommodate classified style advertisements for women trying to sell or buy breast milk. They then compared those samples to samples donated to a milk bank.
Sixty-four percent of the samples received from the website were infected with staph, while 36 percent had strep. Three samples contained salmonella. Only 9 percent of the milk from the websites contained no detectable bacteria.
The study concluded 74 percent of the samples from the websites would have been banned from milk banks.
Milk banks are the other, more official channels to get breast milk. They do testing and require breast milk to meet certain health standards. Milk banks follow specific guidelines established by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. The milk banks require that donors and donations be screened, and pasteurize the milk as well.
The study concluded that milk from the milk banks was cleaner, though not free of contamination. Of the samples taken from the milk banks, only 25 percent had staph and 20 percent had strep. None of the milk banks' samples contained salmonella and 25 percent contained no bacteria. The downside to milk banks is they are considerably more expensive than the milk sharing websites, charging around $6 an ounce.
"The study makes you worry," Dr. Richard Polin, Columbia University's director of neonatology, told The New York Times. "This is a potential cause of disease. Even with a relative, it's probably not a good idea to share."
But some moms who have used an informal network of women to get their breast milk have reported a positive experience, with little to no complications.
"We worried at first," said Rachel Holtzman, a mom who found she was unable to lactate due to a breast reduction surgery and decided to use the milk of other women who were willing to donate for her 4-month-old son. "We wanted to be mindful that the donors were healthy, but there was never a moment when we were afraid.
"We've had the milk of about 30 women and have never had a problem."