There are some things I shouldn't have to say to full-grown adults: Don't take candy from strangers, don't cross the street without looking both ways, and don't buy human breast milk on eBay. But, unfortunately, this wisdom isn't necessarily self-evident — and experts now think buying human breast milk could pose major health risks. Uh oh.
Researchers from the University of London are currently looking into breast milk bought and sold online. Although their study is not yet complete, they were so concerned by their early findings that they decided to publish an editorial in the British Medical Journal advising health care providers to talk to their patients about the risks of buying breast milk online. Buying human breast milk online is usually cheaper than getting milk from a milk bank, leading many women who are unable to breast feed to use online venders to acquire breast milk for their infants, the editorial explains. However, the milk sold online is not subject to any screening process — so, the researchers point out, "these cost saving measures lead to a high risk of communicable disease transmission, contamination, and tampering."
In fact, the editorial states, out of 101 samples of human breast milk purchased online, only nine didn't have detectable bacterial growth. Furthermore, many arrived with damaged packaging and were no longer frozen, leading to even more bacteria.
Obviously, all this poses major health risks — risks that the researchers worry many health care providers may be unaware of, especially since no professional medical bodies have adopted an official policy on purchasing human breast milk. The editorial urges health workers to become more aware of the various issues with the breast milk market and to counsel their patients accordingly.
The researchers also stress the need for legal oversight of the online breast milk market. They write:
"Healthcare workers must also drive and inform the urgent implementation of regulation to ensure safety and quality of human milk. Legal regulation to ensure the safe collection, processing, shipping, and quality of human milk is needed, as are mechanisms to obtain redress against those who knowingly contaminate or dilute milk for profit. Moreover, women need legal protection against their exploitation in the production of breast milk for sale."
Which makes a lot of sense, obviously. I mean, we're talking about a product that is not screened for Hepatitis, HIV, or literally anything else before it's given to babies. If you buy breast milk online, it could be carrying the bubonic plague and you'd never know. Terrifying, isn't it? Especially since many of the sites that sell breast milk (which I will not be linking to) do so by trying to scare mothers about the negative health effects of formula, or guilt trip women who don't or can't breastfeed. It's true that there are definite advantages of breastfeeding over formula; however, women who are unable (or just unwilling) to breastfeed certainly don't need to hear anything about the health benefits of breast milk from people making a profit off something that could make your child sick due to the lack of screening of the product before it's put up for sale.
So until such a time as regulation becomes a thing, I'm going to reiterate this message: Do not buy human breast milk online. Just don't do it.