The study says one out four people searching for human milk online do so because their baby has a preexisting medical condition, like an intolerance to infant formula.
“For an infant who is allergic to cow’s milk or failing to thrive because of formula, this is a huge public health problem,” says Pauline Sakamoto, the Executive Director of Mother’s Milk Bank, a San Jose non-profit that provides donated milk to families in need.
Sakamoto says there are no regulatory bodies checking the safety of online human breast milk transactions. In a previous study, the same researchers at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital found 74 percent of breast milk purchased online contains bacteria, making it unsuitable for human consumption.
Sakamoto says Mother’s Milk Bank only takes donated milk because selling one’s own breast milk promotes unsafe practices. She says they charge $3.75 per ounce because that’s how much it costs to pasteurize the donated milk while keeping its nutritional value, test the milk for contaminants and screen both mother and child. Sakamoto says those precationary steps usually aren’t taken with breast milk purchased online.
“The other problem with buying milk is justice. It’s unequal access to ill or unhealthy infants. Nonprofit milk banks in the U.S. distribute milk to infants that are preterm or have a medical necessity for donor milk. When you have online selling of milk, that in some ways may deplete the volume of milk available for those who are critically in need.”
Mother’s Milk Bank is one of 16 milk banks in the U.S. that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These milk banks, plus two in Canada, received at total of 3.7 million ounces of donated milk in 2014.
But it’s not enough to supply the growing demand for breast milk in North American. Brazil has over 200 milk banks, Sakamoto says, because their human milk banking system is funded by the Brazilian government. That’s contributed to a drastic drop in the country’s infant mortality rates. Sakamoto says U.S. milk banks don’t get government or insurance funding.
“It’s shameful that insurance companies still won’t cover donor milk for moms for even two weeks after she has a baby. For the moms out there looking to buy milk for their babies, why can’t they get donor milk through their insurance companies if they have medical reasons? They should be able to it. Their children should get milk until their gastrointestinal tracts are mature enough to take formula. It’s a good fix, and it’s cheaper in the long run for the health insurance industry.”
Sakamoto says the key to curbing the sale of contaminated human breast milk online is to provide desperate mothers with more milk banks, and ask more lactating mothers to donate milk. She says we also need to take money out of the equation.
“I think these studies show that if moms are paid for their breast milk, these are the kind of problems we will see.”