Warn parents not to buy breast milk online

Warn parents not to buy breast milk online

In their BMJ Editorial* today, they said that far from being a good alternative to formula feeding, unregulated breast milk poses a serious risk of disease transmission and contamination – and they called for its sale to be strictly regulated to protect babies’ health.

Sarah Steele, a lecturer at the Global Health, Policy and Innovation Unit at Queen Mary University London, and colleagues, said that because of the widely documented nutritional benefits of human breast milk for babies, as well as social pressures, mothers who find it difficult or impossible to breastfeed might be tempted to buy breast milk on the internet in the misguided belief that this will be better for their babies’ health than using what they believe to be ‘inferior’ formula milk. In addition, they said, a few adults such as those with cancer, as well as gym enthusiasts and fetishists, buy breast milk online for themselves.

They warned that unlike breast milk supplied from regulated milk banks, breast milk bought on the internet may be cheaper but it is not pasteurised, or screened for contamination or diseases (such as hepatitis B and C, HIV and human T cell lymphotropic virus and syphilis), and might not have been safely collected, stored and shipped. They cited research that found that milk purchased online had more bacterial growth (in one study only 9 out of 101 samples did not have bacterial growth); that 25% of milk samples were delivered with poor packaging and were no longer frozen; that it was sometimes adulterated with cow’s milk or diluted with water to increase volume; and occasional contamination with bisphenol A and illicit drugs.

They reported that the online market for expressed milk is growing rapidly, and argued that many new parents as well as some healthcare workers are unaware that because this market is unregulated it is “dangerous” and “putting infant health at risk”.

They suggested that healthcare professionals should help new mothers who are experiencing difficulties in breastfeeding, and those who cannot breastfeed, to learn about options that are much safer than the online market in breast milk – as well as to advice mothers on sage storage and use of expressed milk.

They also called on professional bodies, institutions and trusts to provide accurate information, advice and guidance, and legal regulation to enforce the safe collection, processing and shipping of human breast milk; and for legal regulation to punish those who contaminate milk for profit and to ensure that mothers are protected against exploitation.

They concluded: “Although breast milk holds many known benefits, seeking out another’s milk rather than turning to instant formula poses risks … At present milk bought online is far from an ideal alternative, exposing infants and other consumers to microbiological and chemical agents. Urgent action is required to make this market safer.”

* Sarah Steele, et al. Risks of the unregulated market in human breast milk. BMJ 2015; 350:h1485 doi:10.1136/bmj.h1485


By Louise Prime,

OnMedica, Wednesday 25 March 2015

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