More than three-fourths of breast milk samples purchased over the Internet contained bacteria that can cause illness, and frequently exhibited signs of poor collection, storage or shipping practices.
The study, published in the Pediatrics, is the first to examine the safety of selling breast milk to others over the Internet, a trend that has become more frequent in the past several years.
The research team from the Center for Biobehavioral Health at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital purchased breast milk listed for sale on public websites and then analyzed it in the lab. The research was completed in collaboration with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and The Ohio State University.
“We were surprised so many samples had such high bacterial counts and even fecal contamination in the milk, most likely from poor hand hygiene. We were also surprised a few samples contained salmonella,” said Sarah A. Keim, PhD, principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health. “Other harmful bacteria may have come from the use of either unclean containers or unsanitary breast milk pump parts.”
Shipping practices also played a role in the levels of bacteria in the milk purchased online. The longer the shipping time, the more contaminated the milk. Nineteen percent of sellers did not include dry ice or another cooling method, and the temperature of the milk was outside of recommended range for storage.
Milk banks are a safer alternative for breast milk for sick babies if the mother cannot provide milk because donors receive proper instructions and the milk is pasteurized, limiting the risk of bacterial illness, said Dr. Keim.
Human breast milk can help strengthen the immune system and has been shown to protect against severe illnesses like necrotizing enterocolitis, a potentially deadly condition affecting thousands of infants each year.
Source: Nationwide Children’s Hospital, USA