breastfeedingBreast milk purchased over the internet could make babies sick, according to a new study. Researchers found high amounts of bacteria in most of the samples they purchased through two internet companies. These bacteria could cause illness in babies, especially in at-risk infants.

Internet Breast Milk Exchanges
The study, published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, confirms the concerns healthcare professionals have expressed over the growing trend of exchanging breast milk on the Internet. In recent years, doctors had been promoting the use of breast milk because research showed human milk protects infants from infections and other illnesses. Women responded by throwing away the formula and turning to breast milk.

Unfortunately, not all women can breastfeed their babies. An adoptive parent, for example, often feels guilty for her inability to produce breast milk. Discomfort, low milk supply, and busy schedules prevent many biological moms from breastfeeding. Single fathers face obvious anatomical challenges to breastfeeding. In an effort to give a child every possible advantage through breastfeeding, more parents are turning to breast milk exchanges springing up on the Internet.

Participants in these exchanges seem to have the best possible intentions. The exchanges deliver breast milk to children who would not otherwise receive it. Many breast milk donors are mothers whose babies cannot drink breast milk or women who produce too much milk.

Most Internet Breast Milk Contains Bacteria
Researchers in the study purchased 100 samples of breast milk from two such internet exchanges and asked the companies to send the milk to a rented mailbox in Ohio. The scientists then compared the Internet milk samples to 20 samples of unpasteurized milk donated to a milk bank.

Most of the Internet samples – 74 percent – contained Gram-negative bacteria. These internet samples also showed more signs of coliform, commonly found in human feces, than did the unpasteurized milk bank samples. Staphylococcus, a type of bacteria commonly found on skin, was also present in the Internet samples more often.

The researchers attribute the higher overall bacterial growth and frequent pathogenic contamination on poor collection, storage, or shipping practices. Bacteria and other pathogens put a baby at risk for illness, especially if the baby was born prematurely or has other health problems that make her vulnerable to infection.

Speak with your child’s pediatrician to learn more about breastfeeding. Be sure to ask how to obtain safe breast milk for your baby.

Source: Keim, SA, et al. Microbial Contamination of Human Milk Purchased Via the Internet. Pediatrics. 2013 Oct 21. Web. 23 Oct 2013.