Breast milk bought online could harbor bacteria

By Shayna Brouker • Published: January 8th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

They say breast is best when it comes to feeding baby, but what happens when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate? Formula serves as a solid stand-in, but there’s nothing like the real thing. Many moms are turning to the Internet to find the breast milk, but new reports reveal that the milk sold online is often laced with traces of harmful bacteria. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that out of 101 samples tested, three-quarters harbored bacteria that could hurt a baby.

Even worse, some showed traces of salmonella, a bacterium that often resides in a person’s gut, indicating a lack of proper bathroom hygiene on the part of whoever pumped the milk. And one in five tested positive for cytomegalovirus, or C-M-V. The virus is common, affecting 50 to 80 percent of people by age 40. But it could wreak havoc on babies with weak immune systems.

On the other hand, unpasteurized milk donated to local milk banks was relatively safe. That may be because milk banks take care to educate mothers on safe pumping techniques. Some websites do as well, but there’s no quality guaranteed. What’s more, studies have shown that about one-third of moms don’t clean their pumps regularly, which could contribute to soiled milk.

It didn’t matter whether the milk was shipped with dry ice or gel packs to keep it cold, what its temperature was upon arrival, or what container it was shipped in. What mattered was safe and healthy handling. Women helping women nurse is nothing new, but buying it from the Internet is. Whether you pump on your own or need to borrow or buy from a friend or bank, it’s important to prepare milk safely. Always wash your hands thoroughly before pumping and ensure storage containers are washed with hot, soapy water and dried. If freezing, leave a little room at the top for the milk to expand. Safe milk makes for a happy, healthy baby.