Mothers who decide they don’t want to (or can’t) breast feed their newborns are generally faced with two choices:  Express their own milk with a breast pump or give infant formula — either way in a bottle.  Roni Caryn Rabin explores another option:

Wet nursing has moved into the Internet age. Where once new parents desperate for breast milk recruited a local mother or, more recently, turned to milk banks or made do with formula, now they rely on informal networks of donors, mostly strangers, hosted on Web sites like Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies.

But some physicians and public health experts fear that in their quest to provide infants with the benefits of breast milk, new parents may inadvertently be exposing their babies to potential harm.


The dangers of buying someone else’s breast milk — anonymously, over the internet — should be apparent:

“You don’t know what you’re getting on the Internet,” said Dr. Susan Landers, a neonatologist in Austin, Tex., one of several experts who in 2010 urged the Food and Drug Administration to step in and start regulating human milk banks. (The F.D.A. declined.)

Dr. Landers noted that even if donor mothers have tested negative for viruses and bacteria, they may drink alcohol, smoke marijuana or use medicine that can be passed on through breast milk.

When researchers reviewed the blood tests of 1,091 potential milk donors who had approached one milk bank over a recent six-year period, they found that 3.3 percent tested positive for a virus or bacterium on screening tests (some may have been false positives).  Six were infected withsyphilis, 17 with hepatitis B and three with hepatitis C.  Six tested positive for human T-cell lymphotropic viruses (HTLV-1 and HTLV-2), and four were H.I.V.-positive.


Whether it’s free or $5.50 an ounce, mothers who have extra breast milk should consider donating it to human milk banks, where it can be used by babies who need it the most:  premature newborns.  For those who can’t provide their own breast milk for their own babies, most infant formulas on the market are pretty good nowadays!

Read New York Times article here.

“Retrospective review of serological testing of potential human milk donors” abstract here.