Red flag! - Don’t purchase breast milk online, says doctor

April 08, 2019
In this August 2014 photo, a mother donates milk at the Fernandes Figueira Institute in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In this August 2014 photo, a mother donates milk at the Fernandes Figueira Institute in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The buying and selling of breast milk may sound odd to some, but it has been around for centuries. There are also wet nurses - women who are hired specifically to breastfeed infants when the birth mother doesn't want to or cannot breastfeed. Registered human-milk banks also exist worldwide, where donor milk is collected from various mothers and distributed to mothers who have prescription for breast milk.

Taking things into the digital age, breast milk is even being sold online. While the practice is uncommon in Jamaica, at least one medical practitioner is already putting up red flags.

According to Dr Sandra Knight-Reese, there are several factors to take into consideration, as breast milk bought online might contain levels of bacteria that are harmful to babies.

"You really don't know the health status of the person expressing the milk. They could have HIV, hepatitis or other illness or germs that can be passed on through breast milk. You would really need to know for sure if the person is fit and healthy to wet, nurse your child," she said.

Human breast milk ice cream and cheese are also available for sale. She told THE STAR that like other food products, if the milk is not handled properly, it will spoil and develop bacteria.

Another concern is that breast milk bought online may contain substances which are present in the woman's blood.

"Unlike cow's milk, breast milk is not pasteurised, so you are not quite sure if bacteria is removed, or if they sterilised it and how well the cold chain would have been kept. When you send items that ought to be kept refrigerated, if you break the cold chain, then there will be deterioration of the elements of the milk. For a newborn or an infant whose immune system is still developing, you do not want to expose them to anything that is not sterilised," she said.

Knight-Reese added that she will continue to implore Jamaican mothers to breastfeed their babies. But for those who are not able to, she wants them to find suitable milk or non-milk-based formula for their infants.

"Right now, everything is available for purchase online, so I am certain that Jamaican mothers are seeing them. But I will not recommend the buying or even selling of breast milk online," the medical practitioner said.

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