January 5, 2012
Health experts are warning about the potential dangers of breast milk-sharing.
Nonprofit US breast milk banks reported $9 million in annual sales in 2010. Buyers include mothers who do not produce enough of their own milk to breastfeed, those with medical issues, and adoptive and gay parents. The milk banks screen donors and treat the donated milk. But about 3 percent of 1,019 potential donors screened positive for antibodies to diseases like HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis, according to a 2010 study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood Fetal and Neonatal Edition. Its authors concluded that casual sharing from unscreened donors may carry "significant risk."
The Food and Drug Administration recommends against giving babies breast milk sold online or received directly from individuals or through the Internet, said spokesperson Sandy Walsh. FDA lacks the authority to regulate breast milk sales and donations, she said.
Surgeon General Regina Benjamin has issued a call to action, saying online sales create "significant risks." The safety of donor milk should be reviewed and clinical guidelines drafted for its use, she said.
"I can't understand why anyone would want milk that way," said Richard Schanler, chair of the breast-feeding unit at the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends infants be breast-fed exclusively for six months. "The women could be using illicit drugs, medications or have some diseases," he said, confirming that breast milk acquired online may expose babies to bacteria and diseases including HIV and hepatitis.
Emma Kwasnica, a breast-feeding activist and founder of the Human Milk 4 Human Babies Global Network Facebook page, where mothers in communities worldwide post offers to share milk for free, said safety warnings about the practice come from a patriarchal system that devalues women.