If you’ve been in a deep sleep for the past few days (or not reading Mommyish), you may have missed the recent hoopla over a study published in November’s issue of Pediatrics stating that samples of breast milk sold through online sources contained bacteria.
The analysis, lead by epidemiologist Sarah Keim, involved 100 samples of breast milk purchased on a public milk-sharing website and found three in four samples contained “either high levels of bacterial growth overall or contained disease-causing bacteria, including fecal contamination.” (This is when I remind you about that a study this summer that found more fecal contamination in your local public swimming pool.)
Since when are some germs the worst thing for a newborn? Especially if it comes through breast milk, which would presumably have the antibodies to help fight them. In fact, my doctor told me the best time to nurse my kids was when I was sick.
Though it’s been widely ignored, Keim admits as much in her study:
It is “totally normal” for there to be certain bacteria in human breast milk, says Keim, a principal investigator with the Center for Biobehavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Some are “very important and healthy for babies and the development of their immune system and digestive system,” she says.
I was shocked to go on to read that breast milk offered at “milk banks” pasteurize the breast milk. What? This isn’t cow’s milk. Doesn’t that process kill all the antibodies that you want to pass to the child in breast milk? Even though I fed my kids expressed breast milk regularly, I tried never to freeze it and even went so far as to buy loads of those expensive Medela containers rather than using plastic baggies, which supposedly cling to the good antibodies leaving them in the bag. I couldn’t imagine pasteurizing it.
This is also when I need to point out the obvious. No one ever sampled my breast milk before I fed it to my babies. Who knows what kind of germs or bacteria are in the milk we produce or on the breast we offer. Especially since everyone knows new mothers hardly ever shower (or was that just me?). No one came to my side when I pulled out a bottle from the fridge, not knowing if it had been there for six or eight days, and still fed it to my baby. For that matter, no one asked me if I had considered how many germs were on my hands when I nursed my infant at the germ-infested playground while watching my two-year-old play.
I’m just not sure of the point of this study. Ok, it may not be the #1 best alternative to buy unscreened breast milk from an unknown source, but some mothers may feel that is their only option. There is such an online demand for breast milk because we’ve been pelted with the mandate that breast is best. Mothers who can’t produce, for whatever reason, are desperate to try to find a source of the best nutrition for their baby. Telling them some of that milk may be contaminated is just layering on the guilt. Instead, I’d rather support breast milk sharing sites — or formula use, or whatever you have to do to feel like you’re doing your job as a mother.