Fears over breast milk sharing groups online as health experts say it could put babies’ health at risk

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  • Health experts have expressed concern over breast milk being shared by mums online, as it could put babies’ health at risk.

    The practice was uncovered by a BBC investigation, who found that mums in the UK were using social media groups to share their breast milk.

    One of them is Human Milk for Human Babies UK, which counts over 17,000 people as part of their Facebook page and makes it easy for breastfeeding mums to offer their surplus breast milk to others who need it.

    One of the ads posted on the page reads: ‘Offer of milk. I have a newborn (4 weeks old tomorrow) I work so husband looks after baby and toddler. I pump at work and have always produced more than I need (pumped for 12 months with toddler). I also still breastfeed toddler once per day on morning. Location County Durham near Barnard Castle. Not taking any medication. Have a normal varied diet.’

    While the group encourages users of the scheme to make an ‘informed choice’ and fully disclose on medications, alcohol or drug use, health professionals are worried that the unregulated groups could put babies’ health at risk.

    Dr Gemma Holder, a consultant neonatologist at Birmingham Women’s Hospital who works at the hospital’s milk bank, told the BBC: ‘When the milk comes in we first have to screen it for infection.

    ‘Mothers who donate milk also have to have their bloods tested to ensure there’s not a risk of blood-borne viruses – things like HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B – being transmitted to babies.’

    ‘Fresh donor milk has significant risk of potentially passing on infection, particularly if you don’t know how it was handled. We know from just screening our milk there are bugs such as E. coli.

    ‘We still get a couple of donors a month, for example, whose milk we aren’t able to accept. This could be higher in the community, where none of these precautions are in place.’

    However, others say the practice can be beneficial in the UK, which has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, and even the World Health Organisation (WHO) supports feeding babies milk from another mum as an alternative way of feeding your child.

    Would you try giving or receiving breast milk online? Let us know in the comments!