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Bacteria found in breast milk sold on Internet, study shows

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Posted at 9:50 PM, Oct 21, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-21 23:50:01-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- An alarming study raises concerns about breast milk bought and sold over the Internet.

Officials from a children’s hospital in Ohio say it found bacterial contamination in 75 percent of breast milk samples bought online, including salmonella and fecal matter.

It’s a big concern among parents with premature and adopted babies who need the health benefits of breast milk.

Lance Madigan, spokesman at the Utah County Health Department, said contamination is not unusual for an unregulated industry.

Utah County just opened a breast milk depot in July – one of four currently operating statewide.

Mothers who are screened, blood tested and approved by their doctors can donate to milk depots.

Milk collected in Utah goes to a regional milk bank in Denver where it is sampled and pasteurized. The breast milk is then distributed to mothers by prescription.

"There`s a certain level standard," Madigan said. "There's also a certain with shipping to make sure it`s safe."

But Madigan said there’s no regulation when it comes to breast milk that is sold online, whether it comes from Craigslist or a public milk sharing website.

"We have mothers who try very hard; they're doing the best they can," Madigan said. "But these are literally a bodily fluid, and any diseases that can be passed by bodily fluid can go through breast milk as well."

The Food and Drug Administration recommends against feeding babies breast milk obtained directly from individuals on the Internet. The American Academy of Pediatrics also discourages feeding premature babies milk from unscreened donors.

Mothers and doctors often refer to breast milk as liquid gold because of its health benefits.

Provo mother Megan Keller is a birth coach and a Utah administrator for the organization Human Milk 4 Babies. She said breast milk can improve a baby’s health over its entire lifetime.

"There`s wonderful, good things that happen with our body when we have human milk," Keller said.

But buying breast milk from a milk bank can be expensive.

"Four dollars an ounce, 32 ounces a day," Keller said. "And insurance doesn`t cover it once they`re out of the hospital."

Human Milk 4 Human Babies is a website where parents can find women willing to donate their breast milk.

"We are just an open space for them to find each other," Keller said.

Unlike the breast milk bought for the study, Keller said, her organization expressly forbids the buying or selling of breast milk.

Keller said the organization helps parents find donors in their communities so it doesn’t have to be shipped.

The group also encourages women to share medical records and develop trusting relationships between the donor and the recipient.

"It`s very, very important that you have some sort of relationship with them," Keller said.

Madigan and Keller both agree that buying breast milk online is a bad idea – parents need to trust the source of any food they feed their baby.