TORONTO — The Canadian Paediatric Society is advising parents unable to breastfeed their newborns to stay away from unregulated breast milk sold or shared online.
The society says that in most cases, mothers unable to breastfeed their babies should turn to commercial formula instead.
Meanwhile, those with hospitalized infants should be allowed priority access to pasteurized breast milk from a regulated milk bank as their first alternative, because supplies are limited.
The society notes regulated milk banks are bound by Health Canada rules. They screen donors for their medical history and pasteurize donations to deactivate any contaminants.
However, it says there are numerous risks to using milk obtained through informal connections – online or off – including the possibility of bacterial and viral transmission.
The society points to a U.S. study that found 74 per cent of samples acquired on the internet contained bacteria levels that exceeded milk bank limits, while 10 per cent of samples appeared to contain cow’s milk.
The society also notes that nutrient content varies significantly by donation and that banks will batch milk from different donors.
The new guidelines were released Thursday.
Online milk sharing groups are active in every Canadian province and territory. One 2014 U.S. study estimated that four per cent of women engage in informal milk sharing.
The society said doctors should ask parents if they are considering donated milk and suggest safer alternatives.
If a family decides to use informally shared milk anyway, doctors are advised to tell parents to make sure the donor has tested negative for hepatitis B and C, HIV, HTLV, and syphilis, and are not at risk for ongoing exposure.
Parents should also make sure the donor is healthy, not using illegal drugs, cannabis, tobacco products, or alcohol, and not taking any medications or supplements, including herbs.