Breast Milk Contamination

Instructor: Nancy Kilmer

Nancy is a registered nurse with a bachelor of science in nursing degree.

Breast milk has long been understood to be the best way to nourish an infant. When the mother cannot provide breast milk, donor milk is used. It is important to know that the milk is safe for the baby and does not contain contaminants.

Why Use Donor Breast Milk?

There are times when a mother does not or cannot breastfeed her baby as in the case of separation, illness, death of the mother, the mother has a low breast milk supply, or simply the mother chooses not to breastfeed but wants her baby to have the benefits that come from breast milk. Hospitals that care for premature infants will use donor breast milk because of the additional nutrients in breast milk that provide antibodies and protection again disease as well as the right amounts of other nutrients that the babies are able to digest.

What Are the Sources of Donor Breast Milk?

The sources of breast milk are many and varied.

  • Friends or relatives
  • Advertisements on the internet
  • Newspaper or magazine ads
  • Breast milk banks

The price for breast milk varies depending upon the source and the seller. Two other questions that should be asked when using donor breast milk:

  1. Is the milk authentically breast milk?
  2. How do I know that it is safe and free of contaminants?

What Makes Donor Breast Milk Unsafe?

As with any other product, there is money to be made in the sale. Therefore, many people advertise breast milk for sale to make a profit. In order to increase the volume of the milk and make more money, some sellers will mix the breast milk with cow's milk. This can be a problem for infants who are unable to digest cow's milk or have an allergy to cow's milk.

Another problem with purchasing breast milk from unknown vendors is that there is no way to know whether or not it has been collected and stored safely to avoid bacterial contamination. The table below outlines safety guidelines for storing breast milk.

Storage Temperature Length of Time
Countertop up to 77 degrees F 6-8 hours
Refrigerator 39 degrees F 5 days
Freezer 0 degrees F 3-6 months

Other contaminants in breast milk can come from the donor herself. There are many chemical contaminants that can be found in breast milk.

  • Recreational drugs taken by the mother, such as opioids, hallucinogens, marijuana, etc.
  • Drugs taken by the mother, such as nicotine and chemicals from tobacco, alcohol
  • Environmental contaminants, such as pesticides, heavy metals
  • Prescription medications
  • Viruses, such as CMV (cytomegalovirus), HIV, Hepatitis B and C, West Nile Virus, etc.
  • Bacteria, such as E. Coli and Staphylococcus

Ensuring Safe Donor Breast Milk

Because there is such a great need for donor breast milk, donor milk banks have been established all over the world. In the United States organizations such as the Human Milk Banking Association of North America can assist mothers in finding a milk bank in her region. Milk from such banks can be more expensive than from other private sources. However, they have processes that can provide assurances regarding milk safety:

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