The Dangers of Sharing Breast Milk
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that nursing mothers exclusively breast-feed infants for the first 6 months of life, and continue breast-feeding for at least one year, as solid foods are introduced. Breast milk is unlike anything else in that it provides infants with the nutrients they need to grow healthy. Moms are taking into consideration the highly publicized research proclaiming the benefits. Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced that not breast-feeding is associated with more ear infections, respiratory tract infections and gastrointestinal infections in infants. Children who were not breast-fed were more likely to develop obesity, asthma and Type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Joan Younger Meek, chair of the AAP section for breast-feeding and chair-elect for the United States Breastfeeding Committee, an independent nonprofit -feeding policies and practices nationwide.
“In my mind, it’s a risky business,” Meek says. “Even the informal sharing between mom’s sister and the mother’s best friend – there are still risks to that because you don’t know the full health history or if the milk was stored in clean containers.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also advises against informal breast-milk sharing. It only recommends breast-feeding the old-fashioned way.
Dr. Sarah Keim, Principal Investigator at the Research Institute at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, with her research team published a study examining the contents of breast milk being sold on the Internet. Despite being advertised as human breast milk, 11 of 102 purchased Internet samples had both human and cow DNA. Several of the samples contained high concentrations of cow’s milk. This finding is problematic for infants with an allergy or intolerance.
“Some add formula or cow’s milk to the breast milk,” Keim says. “there could also be contaminants in it, such as water or soy formula.” Even a small amount can be a problem for a baby with an allergy.
Even if you do not know what to do, there are still risks in accepting breast milk donations. For example, Keim says, the milk could be exposed to a child with infectious diseases such as HIV and cytomegalovirus – a common virus and member of the herpes family that many people aren’t aware they have because it rarely causes symptoms, Keim says, but stays in the body for life.
Other concerns include substances the donor may be ingesting. “Someone you think you know well may not be interested in disclosing information about whether or not they’re taking medications or using illicit drugs,” Keim adds.
Meek says it’s a good thing that some women value breast-feeding and are willing to do anything they can to provide breast milk. “We, as a society, should be more supportive for women to breast-feed their own children”.
Dr. Sarah Keim was asked if breast milk sharing was great, “No, it’s quite clear that the risks to your child’s health and safety are significant and appear to outweigh any benefits they get from breast milk.”
“FDA recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from other individuals or through the Internet.”Keim says, “There are multiple dangers,–,one is the risk of infectious disease.” She said HIV, hepatitis and syphilis can be transmitted through breast milk. In fact, a recent Stanford University study that screened 1,091 women tested positive for syphilis, hepatitis B and C and HIV.
“There’s also the possibility of exposure to drugs, prescription drugs or illicit drugs, and those can be very harmful to infants,” Keim adds.
There’s more. In a 2013 study, Keim and her colleagues found 74% of the breast milk contained staph, strep or other bacterial species.
If that is not enough, the researchers found the levels of bovine contamination, at 10%, to be too high to be accidental. Simply put, said Keim, the sellers deliberately “topped off” their breast milk, presumably so they could sell more.