An online breast milk exchange linked to bacteria contamination in a new study says it is changing its policies.
Researchers found high amounts of bacteria that could potentially sicken babies in three-fourths of samples they bought from women who advertised on the popular website, Only the Breast. A few of the 101 samples purchased contained salmonella, while others had evidence of fecal contamination, probably from breast milk sellers not properly washing their hands, said Sarah Keim, the lead author and a researcher at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
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The study was published online Monday in Pediatrics.
An unidentified administrator for the breast milk organization issued a statement over the weekend saying the Incline Village, Nev.,-based group is planning to stop informal "mother to mother" milk sharing and is forming a new milk bank program for sick babies that will involve better donor screening and "professional milk processing." "Donors will be fully screened, tested and instructed on safe handling methods," and will be offered fair compensation, the statement said.
The statement didn't indicate if the research prompted the changes and a spokesman did not return email and phone messages seeking additional comment on Monday.
Human breast milk is sold for babies on several online sites for a few dollars an ounce, and offered free in several other online milk-sharing exchanges. Users include parents of adopted babies and mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding.
Breast milk is also provided through milk banks, whose clients include hospitals. They also charge fees but screen donors and pasteurize donated milk to kill any germs. The researchers also found bacteria in some of 20 unpasteurized samples donated to a milk bank but not as much as in the milk bought online.
With Internet sites, "you have very few ways to know for sure what you are getting is really breast milk and that it's safe to feed your baby," Keim said.
Sources for bacteria found in the study aren't known but could include donors' skin, breast pumps used to extract milk, or contamination from improper shipping methods, Keim said.
She advised against obtaining breast milk online, echoing 2010 recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.