Medical group calls for better oversight of breast milk donations

The American Academy of Pediatrics pushing for government regulations

SYRACUSE (WSYR-TV) - In a new report, the American Academy of Pediatrics says health care providers should discourage parents from sharing or buying breast milk online because it's too risky.

Researchers say human milk should be pasteurized and tested.

But, the number of regulated breast milk banks is limited and many families don't have access to supplies.

The result - mothers are turning to each other for direct donations.

Tiffany Carpenter's son Dylan came into the world long before he was due at just 29 weeks.

On that first day, his nervous mom had no luck producing vital breast milk.

"Literally a drop. There was barely condensation in the bottle. I'm like this is scary. I might not get milk," she recalls. "What do I do?"

Soon, she began producing so much breast milk, the surplus was donated to Crouse Hospital's milk bank for patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

"We do pasteurize all the milk. We screen the mothers very carefully and there are very strict guidelines, as there should be, for the storage and distribution of that milk," says Dr. Steven Gross, the Director of Newborn Medicine at Crouse Hospital.

Dr. Gross says Crouse is a licensed bank, where milk from pre-term mothers, like Carpenter, is only used for high-risk newborns. Mothers of preemies can produce milk with higher levels of protein and nutrients...a perk that slowly fades away as the baby grows and no longer needs the boost.

The benefits appear to be immense, with cases of certain diseases falling far below rates at hospitals without pre-term milk banks.

But, mothers who are home and struggling to produce breast milk for older and healthier babies often don't have access to licensed human milk banks. As an alternative some are turning to unregulated milk sharing services or strangers online.

Dr. Gross doesn't recommend the idea.

"Sometimes there is cow's milk mixed in with it. I've seen contaminated (milk). So, no, I don't think that would be a safe thing to do."

With the internet expanding the reach of unregulated milk sharing mothers, the report by the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for clear government guidelines for the treatment of human milk including federal oversight. That oversight would include cost controls to allow low-income families equal access.

The group agrees that regulated banks that offer pasteurized human milk are beneficial....and should make high-risk infants a priority.

Crouse Hospital's bank exclusively serves its NICU patients after testing donors and treating the milk. Dr. Gross says the cost is relatively low.

Tiffany's son is now a healthy 3-year-old. Her days of donating are over, but she hopes a safe solution is found for babies of any age.

"Sadly, not all the moms there could produce milk. So, it was nice to be able to know that what you are doing is helping to be able to give back to the other families that need it," she adds.

Click here to see more analysis by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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