Study: Online breast milk poses health risks for babies

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by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist John Fisher and editor Rob Diaz

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on October 22, 2013 at 6:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 23 at 10:57 AM

AUSTIN -- The benefits of breastfeeding your baby are well documented. However, a new study reveals the risks some mothers are taking when they buy breast milk online.  

The report focused on two popular breast milk sharing websites. It found the milk is often contaminated with high levels of bacteria -- including salmonella.

Mackenzie was born Oct. 16 at St. David's Medical Center. She was due closer to Christmas. The hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has a refrigerator full of highly-screened breast milk donated to the Mothers Milk Bank of Austin.  So far, little Mackenzie hasn't needed any donations.

"My milk is better than anybody else's milk for my baby," Mackenzie's mother Marquiste Nance said.

Nance has been able to produce enough for Mackenzie. She is aware of the recent findings in the Journal of Pediatrics showing the dangers of online breast milk.  

"It's just too high a risk for your baby," said Nance. "I just couldn't do it."

However, women who are unable to breastfeed but want the nutrients and health benefits of breast milk have been turning to online sharing. The report found breast milk purchased from these popular sites often contained high levels of bacteria, including salmonella.

"Online you have no idea what you're getting," said Lanna Barbaroux, a lactation consultant at St. David's Medical Center.

"Those mothers who donate to those sites are not screened," said Jennifer Desireddi, M.D., a neonatologist who practices at St. David's Medical Center.  "That milk is not processed the way it is in a milk bank. So viruses, bacteria, any maternal drug use can be passed on through that milk to the infant."

"The recipients of that milk are basically playing Russian roulette," said Kim Updegrove, the president of the Human Milk Bank Association of North America. At the milk bank, donors are screened and undergo tests for health and blood risks. Updegrove says unregulated website donors don't have to do that.

"For some reason women are willing to believe that breast milk is different from other body fluids," said Updegrove. "They don't see it carrying the same risks as something like blood. So they assume that the benefits of breast milk far outweigh any potential risks."

Nance isn't willing to take those risks.

"Not knowing that person, or not knowing if that milk has been tested, you're taking a pretty high risk with your baby's health," she said.

To read more about the study, click here

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