When Breast Milk Isn’t Best

Is breast milk always best for baby?.

Posted Nov 14, 2013

We’ve long heard that when it comes to mealtime for your baby, breast is best. But, has the long-standing belief that breastfeeding is superior to formula pressured parents into resorting to potentially hazardous options? 

75% of Milk from Unregulated “Breast Milk Banks” Tainted

Many mothers who can’t produce breast milk for reasons like mastectomies, adoption or health issues still opt for breast milk over formula. Some parents are able to receive breast milk directly from a friend, neighbor or family member who happens to be nursing — it’s a practice called “casual sharing,” according to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

However, a research team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital investigated an emerging “cottage industry” of websites where visitors can buy, sell or donate breast milk. Many, as the researchers have found, are unregulated and therefore sell unpasteurized milk, or milk that hasn’t been screened for infection or contamination. While some who browse or buy from what was close to 13,000 postings on milk sharing websites in 2011 claim they don’t experience any issues with the donated milk they receive, and that it has even helped their child grow, experts caution against a host of factors that are out of parents’ control: the time it takes to ship, the freshness of the milk, the containers the milk is transported in, and the temperature at which it’s stored, for instance.

Researchers purchased and examined 101 samples bought from online milk banks. Three-fourths of the milk samples contained bacteria. Sarah Keim, Phd, principle researcher on the team, reported that three-fourths of the milk samples contained “either high levels of bacteria or bacteria that can cause illness.” Some had high levels of fecal contamination and even salmonella. Keim instructs parents to turn to milk banks to ensure their child is getting the healthy milk.

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America requires donors be screened and the milk pasteurized. The bank, which provides breast milk to parents by prescription, puts infants in neo-natal intensive care units as top priority, making supplies scarce for other babies. 

The breast milk vs. formula debate is certainly complicated. A new study, for instance, explains that babies receive “good bacteria” from moms via breast milk, which helps regulate their fragile digestive systems. Despite the drawbacks many see in formula, isn’t it a better alternative than human milk from a questionable source?

Breast Not Always Best

Besides the debate about breast milk from a health standpoint, there are other factors that complicate a mother’s choice between breast milk and formula.  I covered a study not too long ago revealing the hidden economic downsides to breastfeeding. In particular, despite society’s praise for breastfeeding, it’s problematic for many working moms. A 2007 study conducted in the United Kingdom that found that when faced with coworkers who were unsupportive of their breastfeeding or the need to pump milk, women would stop breastfeeding, shorten work hours, change jobs, or quit work all together. With now 40% of households with children under 18 headed by breadwinner moms, it’s fair to say that breast may not be best for everyone.

When you want, as most new mothers do, to give your child the best possible start in life but are unable to breastfeed, do the possible benefits of purchased breast milk outweigh the clear risks? Or, is formula a better, safer choice?

Related articles: Stand Up For Mothers Who Can’t or Don’t Breast Feed and Breastfeeding Is Not Free 

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/frecklephoto/2369942540/


Nationwide Children's Hospital. "Buying breast milk online is likely to cause illness in infants." ScienceDaily, 21 Oct. 2013. Web. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822091026.htm

Anonymous. “Study Shows Buying Breast Milk Online Is Likely to Cause Illness in Infants.” Nationwide Children’s Hospital. 21 Oct. 2013. Web. http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/news-room-articles/study-shows-buying-breast-milk-online-is-likely-to-cause-illness-in-infants?contentid=121325

Keim, Sarah Phd. “Would You Buy Breast Milk Online For Your Baby?” 700 Children’s. 22 Oct 2013. Web. http://700childrens.nationwidechildrens.org/buy-breast-milk-online-baby/

Copyright 2013 by Susan Newman