Breast Milk Online May Be a Dicey Deal

Breast milk ordered online contained high amounts of bacteria

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) In the age of the internet, people can order pretty much anything online. For mothers who cannot nurse their babies, even breast milk is available — but it may not be safe.

A recent study found that well over half the human milk ordered online contained high amounts of bacteria.

None of the samples contained the HIV virus. However, one in five of these human milk samples contained a herpes virus.

The levels of bacteria seen in the internet human milk samples were not seen in human milk samples from a milk bank.

A milk bank is a local organization that accepts donated human milk to offer to families whose babies cannot be breastfed by their mothers.

"Get human milk only from a reputable local milk bank."

The study, led by Sarah A. Keim, of the Center for Biobehavioral Health at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, looked at how common bacteria contamination was in human milk bought online.

The researchers ordered 101 samples of human milk online from a popular US milk-sharing website.

They then compared these mailed samples to 20 unpasteurized human milk samples that had been donated at a milk bank. Pasteurizing milk is a process that kills the bacteria in milk.

The researchers found that 74 percent of the milk samples ordered online had been colonized with a substantial amount of bacteria.

The internet samples had higher amounts of the Staphylococcus bacteria in particular compared to the samples from the milk bank.

It appeared that the number of days it took for the internet milk to arrive in the mail was related to how much bacteria was in it.

Basically, the longer it took for the online milk samples to arrive in the mail, the more bacteria those samples contained.

None of the internet milk samples contained HIV, but 21 percent of the samples ordered from online contained a herpes virus.

"Human milk purchased via the Internet exhibited high overall bacterial growth and frequent contamination with pathogenic bacteria, reflecting poor collection, storage, or shipping practices," the researchers wrote. "Infants consuming this milk are at risk for negative outcomes, particularly if born preterm or are medically compromised."

The study was published October 21 in the journal Pediatrics. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

The research was funded by the Ohio State University Food Innovation Center and The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Review Date: 
October 20, 2013
Last Updated:
October 21, 2013