New study doesn’t show whole picture of online breast milk sales

lanisoh-with-milkA new study in Pediatrics (Microbial Contamination of Human Milk Purchased Via the Internet), is causing an uproar in the media over whether purchasing breast milk online is safe or not. The authors concluded that “Human milk purchased via the Internet exhibited high overall bacterial growth and frequent contamination with pathogenic bacteria, reflecting poor collection, storage, or shipping practices. Infants consuming this milk are at risk for negative outcomes, particularly if born preterm or are medically compromised.”

However, when taking a closer look at the study, it seems the researchers were looking for only those those sellers who were not safely shipping the milk or taking precautions to not contaminate it. It was found that the researchers only purchased milk from those mother’s selling it that didn’t ask any questions, and if they did ask about the baby or wanted to communicate further the researchers stopped speaking with them.

Dr. Alison Stuebe, of The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, writes:

“But that’s really not the whole story. First, consider who participated in the study.  By design, the authors communicated with sellers only by email, and cut off the conversation if the sellers asked about the recipient infant or wanted to talk by phone or in person. Milk was shipped to a rented mailbox to make the process anonymous. Of the 495 sellers the authors contacted, 191 sellers never responded, 41 stopped corresponding before making a sale, and 57 were excluded because they wanted to communicate by phone or asked about the recipient baby. Another 105 did not complete a transaction, leaving 102 of the original 495 sellers approached who actually shipped milk. Of these, half the samples took more than 2 days to ship, and 19% had no cooling agent in the package.

It’s highly plausible that milk sent with no questions asked, via 2 day or longer shipment, and (in 1 and 5 cases) without any cooling whatsoever, was collected with less attention to basic hygienic precautions.  The bacterial load in study milk samples therefore doesn’t tell us about the relative safety of milk obtained following a conversation between buyer and seller about the recipient baby and then shipped overnight on dry ice in a laboratory-quality cooler.  Indeed, when the authors compared online milk purchases with samples donated to a milk bank after a screening and selection process, they found much lower rates of bacterial contamination.  The authors acknowledge this limitation in the study, but that subtlety has been lost in the media coverage.”

… ““Breast milk as bacterial brew” pushes lots of cultural buttons — from the “ick factor” to our reliance on mass-produced and marketed substitutes, rather than women, to nourish our children.  Let’s stop pressing buttons, and start looking for solutions, so that more families can achieve their infant feeding goals.”

You can read the full article here: “Online milk sales, beyond buyer beware.”

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