December 13th, 2010
10:41 AM ET

Moms going online to share breast milk

Women who can't breast-feed are turning to the internet and getting breast milk from mothers who have a surplus, but the government is warning new moms that breast milk sharing may not be such a good idea.

In November, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against feeding babies breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the internet saying that  in such cases "the donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk" and that "it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby."

The FDA recommends women  use breast milk obtained only from sources such as the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, where milk donors have been screened and where certain precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of the milk. An FDA pediatric advisory committee met December 6 to discuss the safety of donor and banked human milk and concluded that the "industry is doing a good job with screening, storing and distributing" but that more research is needed on the benefits and risks of milk banking, an FDA spokesperson in an email.

Still, many women are turning to websites such as onlythebreast.com and eatsonfeets.org, bypassing the milk banks and meeting mothers who have a surplus of milk and either buying or trading with them.  The reason in many cases is economic: Milk banks can be expensive. For example, one milk bank CNN spoke with charged $4.50 for one ounce of donated milk. That's $36 dollars for an 8-ounce bottle.

When asked about the safety risks, Emma Kwasnica, one of the founders of Eats on Feets, says the mothers have formed a network of trust. "Women are using this milk for their own babies. We trust mothers not to jeopardize their babies," she said. She also says women have become tech savvy and have learned how to do a type of flash heat pasteurization process that has been shown to inactivate HIV in the breast milk of HIV-positive women.

The recent advisory committee looked only at milk banking and did not touch on the casual sharing of breast milk, but the FDA says women who choose to do it should be aware of the risks.

"Risks for the baby include exposure to infectious diseases, to chemical contaminants such as some illegal drugs, and to a limited number of prescription drugs that might be in the human milk, if the donor has not been adequately screened."

soundoff (360 Responses)
  1. Trisha

    This is stupid. Stop arguing with each other and trying to make each other feel bad. Everyone has to choose the best options for their family. And the FDA has a job to do. Bottom line is do what you want and stop making others feel bad for not doing what YOU want! Now you have the warning from the FDA so do with it what you will.

    December 14, 2010 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Lisa

    Surprise, surprise – another inflammatory article from CNN. First of all, nobody is buying breast milk from Eats on Feets (can't speak for the other site mentioned). It's milk SHARING. Mothers are donating their milk out of the kindness of their hearts with no expectation of money or compensation. Second, you're not getting milk from some random stranger in a different country – you're getting milk from (or giving milk to) a family close to you that you're actually going to meet in person. You can ask them to go through whatever screenings and tests you want. Third, I would LOVE to see the FDA impose the same regulations on formula that they're suggesting for milk sharing.

    December 21, 2010 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Cammille

    @Lisa... You took the words out of my mouth.... To those who are against "Milk sharing" since us ladies on EOF do NOT buy sell or trade... Maybe you should READ all the success stories.. Some of them being preemies who other wise wouldnt have made it. I have never heard of Breast milk Killing babies.. yet formula has.... And let me just say.. I have been both a BF and FF. And I would still say breast is Best...even if it comes from a different source.... These moms who have an abundance of milk, share with those who dont for whatever reason. We have formed a community that has formed a TRUST for each other... Something this world could use a little more of. And like Lisa said, I would LOVE to see the FDA impose the same regulations on formula...

    December 30, 2010 at 13:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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