You can buy just about anything on the Internet, although it's not always a wise idea. That may be especially true of human milk.
A new study finds that 10% of human milk samples purchased from Internet sites contained added cow's milk -- presenting a danger for the large number of babies receiving the purchased milk due to medical conditions.
"We found that one in every 10 samples of breast milk purchased over the Internet had significant amounts of cow's milk added, and this poses a risk to infants with an allergy or intolerance to cow's milk," said Sarah A. Keim, PhD, lead author on the study published today in the journal Pediatrics. "If a baby with cow's milk allergy were to drink this milk, it could be very harmful."
These babies are also vulnerable to the risk of infectious disease from bacterial and viral contamination of such milk, which was identified in a prior study by the same research team led by Nationwide Children's Hospital. That study found bacterial or viral contamination in more than 75% of milk samples purchased online, which became the first data to confirm the Food and Drug Administration's 2010 warning of possible contaminants in unpasteurized human milk obtained from sources other than the baby's mother.
The team's previous research found that 21% of individuals seeking human milk online did so for a child with a pre-existing medical condition. And 16% of these parents specifically sought out the purchased human milk due to their baby's formula intolerance.
The study is the first to document that milk purchased online is frequently adulterated with intentionally added ingredients.
"We were concerned that, because money is exchanged in these transactions, there might be an incentive to boost milk volumes in order to make more money," Dr. Keim said. "Cow's milk and infant formula resemble human milk and could potentially be added to boost volumes without the recipient knowing. Mothers who consider purchasing breast milk over the Internet should beware -- when you obtain milk from an unfamiliar source, you cannot know for sure that what you are getting is safe for your baby."
Dr. Keim's team at Nationwide Children's collaborated with researchers from The Ohio State University and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center to purchase and test 102 samples of breast milk advertised on milk-sharing websites. The team compared the purchased samples with their own preparations of human milk diluted with cow's milk to approximate the amount of contamination required in order to test positive for bovine DNA.
All purchased samples did contain human milk, but 11 also contained bovine DNA, 10 of which had results consistent with more than minor, accidental contamination with cow's milk. The findings suggest that a notable number of sellers intentionally added cow's milk or infant formula to the breast milk.
"Pediatricians who care for infants should be aware that milk advertised as human is available via the Internet, and some of it may not be 100% human milk," said Dr. Keim, who also is a faculty member at The Ohio State University. "And patients should be counseled against obtaining milk in this way for their infant."