Purchasing human milk via the Internet may be risky business. Le Bonheur Registered Lactation Consultant Ruth Munday BSN, RN-BC, IBCLC, explains a recent study and safety guidelines on human milk.

This study in the journal, Pediatrics, compared human milk samples bought from a popular U.S. milk-sharing website with unpasteurized samples of human milk donated to a milk bank. The unpasteurized samples from the milk bank were from samples of milk that the milk bank would be unable to use because they came from donors who did not currently meet the Human Milk Bank Association of North America (HMBANA) guidelines for milk donation.

The human milk purchased through the Internet was found to have higher levels of bacteria growth and contamination. This issue is thought to be related to improper collection, storage and transport of the human milk advertised online. Babies who might receive this milk could become quite sick, especially if they were born premature or already have health issues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not endorse the sharing of human milk as a safe way to feed babies and the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against feeding preterm infants fresh milk from unscreened donors.

There are valid reasons why milk sharing from unknown sources can be hazardous. The possibility of maternal medications, transmission of infectious diseases and viruses (such as HIV type 1) and chemical exposures are some of the major concerns. Most of the human milk sellers did not mention if they used proper hygiene or if they had negative lab results for infectious diseases. In contrast, the unpasteurized human milk samples obtained from the milk bank were found to have a lower incidence of bacteria and contaminants, supporting the evidence that the strict collection, storage, and shipping technique that HMBANA requires does make a difference in human milk safety.

HMBANA requires all of their donors to undergo a thorough health history screen and submit a blood sample prior to donating milk. Once approved, donor mothers are then given the specific instructions on how to collect, store and ship their milk. When the milk bank receives the milk, the milk is then cultured, pasteurized and cultured again. After all testing is complete, the pasteurized donated milk is then frozen and ready for babies in need. A prescription is required along with parental consent prior to any baby receiving donor milk in a hospital or home setting. All HMBANA milk banks are non-profit organizations. Hospitals do pay when ordering donated human milk, but it is only to cover the cost of the donor screening, pasteurization and shipping process.

Le Bonheur does have the option of using pasteurized donor human milk that comes from a HMBANA milk bank for babies who meet certain guidelines.

If a mother is interested in becoming a donor, more information can be found on the HMBANA website. This is a wonderful and safe way to donate milk that may make a difference in the life of a critically ill baby.