Apparently selling breast milk is a flowing business with over 55,000 internet advertisements found last year. That is a lot of milk – I think. Before I go all doctor and tell you why this is a bad idea – let me put some perspective on it, from a new dad.
My son, JJ, was in his 6th day of life and it was 5 am. My wife, exhausted from feeding every two hours, and recovering from a C-section, was sleeping. JJ, his grandfather, and I were up and he began to cry. I checked his diaper- it was dry. I tried to burp him – that wasn’t it. I put my finger in his mouth – it was dry. He was hungry. But his mom was exhausted to the point of tears. We had made a conscious decision, based on reading popular magazines, that our son would be breast-fed – something my wife called, “The hardest thing I’ve done,” even harder than the C-section.
I didn’t want to wake her, and then I remembered the hospital had sent us home with a little bottle of formula and a nipple. I was concerned – wanting to do what was best for my son was, according to all I had sort of read – breast feed. If he took a bottle he might get what was called “nipple confusion” (yes, I know, it sounds odd).
I got the bottle, put the nipple on, and JJ drank it down, burped and went back to sleep. My father-in-law and I smiled, and my wife didn’t know what happened. I was convinced that by 7 am the Leche Police would be picketing outside my home about what a bad father I was. My wife got up later that morning (by then JJ had two mini bottles) refreshed. I sheepishly told her of my sin.
We thought- what about pumping? Off to the store, buy the fancy pumping machine and all the stuff to store, and learn how to carefully harvest the milk. This might be the solution- pump during the day and then at night she could rest. My wife was sitting on the couch, after two hours a couple of ounces – said she felt like a she belonged to Bos Taurus, a human Holstein.
We had one of those wise pediatricians that has seen everything, so we went to him for the baby’s check and our “nipple confusion” concerns. Is it just me that thinks that term is funny, or did I revert to being 12?
The pediatrician laughed at us. Said that feeding the child formula at night and breast milk during the day was just fine. He told us how for many pumping is a pain both from trying to keep the milk from being contaminated and the restrictions it puts on mom (all I could think of was a dairy farm).
We never knew, nor would consider, purchasing breast milk online (my son is 4 now, so we did have the internet then). But when I heard this hit the news I had to wonder – people really do this?
What caught the attention was the discovery that ten percent of breast milk sold online is contaminated with cow’s milk. Hearing that I thought – well, perhaps they are all milked at the same spot- but then I shook off that vision and thought, well, never mind.
Ok, insert the Borat cheese joke in here – but let me just wrap your head around this one for a second.
It does make me wonder if a mother is concerned enough to want to have breast milk instead of formula, does she think about what can be transmitted through breast milk?
(1) You do not know if what you are getting is breast milk. Ten per cent of what is sold is topped off with cow’s milk. Cows milk is not recommended for kids under one year old
(2) If the milk was not properly handled and stored it will grow out some bad germs, even though it is not overtly spoiled
(3) Even if you know the person selling it, you may not know what medications they take that can be transmitted through the breast milk.
(4) Online breast milk sampled, 72% had infectious causing bacteria and 21% had potential virus contamination
(5) The milk may be spoiled
Bad things that can be transmitted through breast milk:
HIV – the AIDS virus.
Herpes Simples Virus
Hepatitis A, B, and C – depending on the disease state and viral load
Toxoplasmosis – a parasite that infects the brain
Staphylococcus (including MRSA)
The active component of marijuana
Antibiotics (what if your child is allergic to them – and do you want to screw up your kids intestinal bacteria with antibiotics – nope)
Cows Milk Contamination
The story that hit the newswires was that 10 per cent of the milk sold online had some cow’s milk added to it. Besides that you are not getting what you pay for, consider this – many infants cannot tolerate cow’s milk. It is not recommended infants have cow’s milk until they are at least a year old. In addition, some children have allergies to cow’s milk, and if the child has an allergy could cause a fatal reaction. If the child has intolerance could cause lots of colic and discomfort for the infant, and sleeplessness for the parent.
So you think you can screen for this? You want to take a chance on your baby?
In contrast, baby formula made today is safe, effective, fortified, and has raised lots and lots of kids.
Breast milk is collected in this country in very legitimate circumstances. For premature infants there are milk banks that collect the milk, and much like a blood transfusion center, screen people very carefully and analyze the milk. But those banks don’t sell it over the internet – most of them are associated with major Children’s Hospitals around the country (you can imagine the children they see).
In reading an interview of a woman who was selling breast milk over the internet she said most of the people who contacted her internet advertisement were “creepy men.”
I don’t think breast milk is going to be a major commodity. Could you see asking Starbucks for a double shot latte made with breast milk?
Seriously – I understand wanting the best for your child, but think of breast milk not like something you pick up from the store, but like a blood transfusion. You want to make sure it is the best stuff- and like any blood transfusion, you have no real idea what the person who gives has had for an infectious disease, or has – unless you do some very sophisticated tests.
Cow’s Milk Contamination of Human Milk Purchased via the Internet
Sarah A. Keim, PhD, MA, MSa,b,c, Manjusha M. Kulkarni, PhDd, Kelly McNamara, MAa, Sheela R. Geraghty, MDe, Rachael M. Billockd, Rachel Ronau, BSa, Joseph S. Hogan, PhDf, and Jesse J. Kwiek, PhDd,g
Pediatrics. 2015 May;135(5):e1157-62.PMID: 25847797
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.