December 10, 2010
For the first time, Food and Drug Administration advisers met Dec. 6 to collect information and seek public comment on formal human milk banking. Though casual milk sharing among mothers was not on the meeting agenda, it is a concern to FDA.
On its website last week, FDA warned "against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet" due to the risk of infectious diseases like HIV and contaminants, including illegal drugs.
And last month Health Canada, FDA's Canadian counterpart, released a statement urging that "unprocessed human milk should not be shared."
The warnings come just weeks after a Montreal mother, Emma Kwasnica, launched a worldwide network via Facebook to facilitate local milk-sharing "in a safe and ethical manner." "Eats on Feets" now has chapters in all 50 states and has coordinated roughly 100 matches.
Calling agencies like Health Canada and FDA "old-school," Kwasnica said, "They don't understand how we use social media. We forge friendships online, then meet."
Experts say there are risks. According FDA data, the chances of transmitting hepatitis B or C through breast milk are "negligible." However, there is a 42 percent risk of transmitting HIV and a 76 percent chance of passing along cytomegalovirus. "Flash pasteurization" -- heating milk at 144 degrees Fahrenheit (62 degrees Celsius) for 30 minutes -- kills most germs.
Lisa Broderick-Cohen, a Moorestown-based lactation consultant and La Leche League leader, said every hospital should have a milk bank, so infants in need can safely benefit from mother's milk. But procuring breast milk online is "dangerous," she said.
FDA said the information gathered Monday will be used for future deliberations.