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Pssst, that’s not breast milk you’re buying


When is breast milk not breast milk? When you order it online, apparently.

In a new study, researchers found that 10 percent of the breast milk bought over the Internet is topped off with cow’s milk. That’s one in 10. According to the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, 10 out of 100 samples tested “had a level of bovine DNA consistent with human milk mixed with at least 10 percent fluid cow’s milk.”

Obviously, giving a baby cow’s milk can cause problems for infants with allergies or lactose intolerance.

And if you think this isn’t an issue — because who buys breast milk online, right? — think again.

[Read: Breast milk at any cost?]

In 2013, the researchers in this study estimated that more than 13,000 individuals were sharing, selling and buying breast milk online. Today, it’s more than 55,000, said Sarah Keim, principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and one of the study’s authors.

A push to educate parents about the health benefits of breast milk may be causing parents who can’t produce enough, or any, breast milk to obtain it by any means. “Women today just now having children are very interested in breast-feeding and have a clear sense of what the benefits are,” Keim explained. “But not everyone is able to provide enough milk …. there aren’t really any other sources other than friend/relative.”

There are very few certified milk banks that are regulated and safe. And so women have taken to sharing or selling milk, sometimes driving hours to get it. The FDA started to warn against it in 2010, because unscreened donor milk could contain contaminants or have other issues related to it.

“We wanted to study whether there really was evidence of adulteration of the milk,” Keim said. “The FDA had warned that might be an issue with milk sharing.” Ends up, the FDA’s warning was right. All samples contained human milk, Keim said. But that 10 percent that weren’t just breast milk “contained a substantial amount of cow’s milk.”

This study follows one from last year by Keim and others, also published in Pediatrics, where milk obtained via the Internet was tested for bacteria. That study found three-fourths of the samples of the milk to be tainted with dangerous bacteria, including salmonella.

“It’s pretty clear, based on the findings of this and our prior study that looked at infectious disease risks, that obtaining milk for your babies that way is not a safe practice or recommended,” Keim said.

You might also be interested in:

Why I breastfed my son until he was 3

Breast milk at any cost?

Nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life is critical

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