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We’ve all heard that breast is best, but you can’t stick to this rule across the board. Because some mamas have a hard time breastfeeding, but also know how awesome breast milk is, they may decide to use donated breast milk — and as long as the breast milk comes from a very reputable source, that’s fine. However, while milk banks screen and pasteurize donated milk, private breast milk sharing groups have no means to test their milk, so you may be getting much more than you bargained for, such as a heaping dose of bacteria. Consider this – Sarah A. Keim, a researcher at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and her research team purchased more than 100 samples of human milk last year then studied them for safety — and what they found was alarming. The study found that a full 75% of breast milk bought through the site OnlyTheBreast.com, an online breast milk sharing community, was tainted with high levels of disease-causing bacteria, including germs found in human waste. Ugh.

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Some of the problems researchers found with shared breast milk included colonies of Gram-negative bacteria such as coliform, staphylococcus and streptococcus bacteria and cytomegalovirus, or CMV, which is a bacteria known to cause serious illness in premature or sick babies. Researchers note that most of the contamination correlated with poor milk handling, such as unsafe collection, storage or shipping practices. Keim notes, “Besides bacterial contamination and viruses that could be in the milk, you could be exposing your infant to chemical contaminants, pharmaceuticals or drugs as well.” This is exactly why you need to get breast milk from a reputable source. When you obtain breast milk from an online sharing community or Facebook, the milk could be contaminated with who knows what because you have no clue if a mama washed her hands before pumping, or drank a glass of wine or if the mom donating is sick and doesn’t know it. Breast milk contaminated with harmful bacteria is far from beneficial for your baby and can pose a very real danger. It’s true that breast milk banks are expensive, but they’re also a safer bet. If breast milk bought or donated from unknown sources is your only option, your baby will be safer and better off if you go with a decent organic formula instead. Beyond formula, you can also search for breastfeeding help and support. Most moms CAN breastfeed or pump and feed with knowledgeable support.

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