Buying breast milk online poses dangers to your baby, experts say. Photo by iStock.
Buying and selling breast milk online has become an increasingly popular trend. Moms who have excess milk figure they can make some extra cash, and parents who don’t have access to milk often assume buying someone else’s is the next best thing. But a new editorial in the British medical journal The BMJ warns against the dangers of buying breast milk online.
The editorial, co-authored by Sarah Steele, a lecturer at the Global Health, Policy and Innovation Unit at Queen Mary University London, outlines a number of risks to babies who consume milk bought online. “When you are buying milk online rather than from a milk bank you are taking three very real risks,” Steele tells Yahoo Parenting. “At milk banks they screen donors for viruses, they pasteurize the milk, and they train staff and donors in the proper collection and handling of expressed milk, including how to properly wash your hands, sanitize the breast, sterilize pumps, and store milk. When you are buying milk online you don’t necessarily know where it’s coming from or if it’s been handled properly — there’s a bacterial, viral, and toxic risk.”
Steele, who has a four-month-old son and had trouble producing milk herself, says some mothers turn to buying milk online because it’s less expensive than getting milk from a bank. “In the U.S., milk from a bank is about $4 an ounce whereas online you can get it for $1 or $2 an ounce,” she says. “Though online you may pay a premium—up to $6 an ounce — if a mother claims to be eating organic or to have milk that produces chubby babies.”
The online sale of breast milk is an industry that’s growing fastest in the United States, the editorial points out, and has gotten significant media attention in recent years. Still, health regulations haven’t caught up to the trend, and the editorial authors urge for industry-wide regulation. “Most health care professionals don’t realize that this is something that mothers are doing,” Steele says. “Currently, there is a high risk of viral contamination, risk of milk containing BPAs, even risks that the person you are buying from my be an IV drug user or taking prescription drugs that we know make it into the breast milk.”
Steele says that even the most well-meaning mothers selling milk online can make a baby sick. “A lot of the viruses that can be transmitted and make a child really ill, the only symptom in an adult is fatigue,” she says. “Every new mom is tired, so you may not think anything of it.”
While Steele says she hasn’t yet seen a case of infant illness as a direct result of the online sale of breast milk, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, she points out. “There may have been examples of this and we just didn’t know it was happening,” she says. “We are in the midst of doing longer term studies but we wanted to reveal our editorial in hopes of preventing any illnesses or worse. We want to make sure caregivers are making safe infant feeding choices.”
Steele encourages breastfeeding and says she believes breast is best. But for those who don’t have access to breast milk, for whatever reason, she says it’s important to discuss the safe available options with your health provider, whether that be ways to increase your milk supply, a milk bank, or the best formula. As she points out, “breast milk is not necessarily nature’s superfood when you’re buying it off the web and having it delivered to your doorstep.”