Using and donating breast milk is becoming more popular. However, there are some important things to keep in mind for givers and receivers alike.
Breast milk donations help mothers who can’t provide enough breast milk give their babies the most nutritious food for their growing brains and bodies. But just because donated breast milk is available doesn’t mean it’s always safe.
“Pay attention to where the milk comes from,” says Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, a Washington University pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Studies have found high levels of harmful bacteria in breast milk sold online.”
Those bacteria, as well as viruses such as hepatitis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), can be passed to a baby who drinks the milk. Studies have also found that breast milk sold online may be diluted with cow’s milk.
Dr. Berchelmann recommends both buying from and donating to organizations, such as the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, that screen donors’ milk and pasteurize it for added safety. Good milk banks also work closely with hospitals and newborn intensive care units to make sure that donated breast milk goes where it’s needed most. St. Louis Children’s Hospital uses breast milk only from these safe sources if mothers are unable to breast-feed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization agree—when a mother’s own breast milk isn’t an option, pasteurized, banked donor breast milk is a wonderful alternative.
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