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Black market breast milk prompts health warning to new mums

Regulated milk banks are safe, but the same can't be said of milk traded over the internet. <i>Photo: AAP</i>

Regulated milk banks are safe, but the same can't be said of milk traded over the internet. Photo: AAP

A growing trend for black market breast milk may be putting babies at risk, prompting Australian researchers to call for an expanded network of regulated ‘milk banks’.

The benefits of breast milk have been expounded for years, with a limited number of milk banks operating across Australia for premature or sick babies.

But not all milk is safe and a growing trend for black market buying and sharing over the internet and social media is putting infants at risk.

If the milk is not stored correctly, there is a risk of bacterial contamination and infectious diseases.

Medications or illegal drugs can also be transmitted through the milk if not properly screened, the Monash University researchers warn.

By giving their babies black market milk, unsuspecting parents trying to do the best for their children may actually be putting them in danger.

Julian Koplin from the university’s Bioethics Centre said there is no certainty when it comes to milk from informal sources.

‘No guarantees’

“All of these risks can be managed,” Dr Koplin told AAP.

“But when milk is sourced outside of formal milk banks, there is no guarantee that milk has been stored, screened, and handled correctly.”

People using the informal milk banks currently include single fathers, gay male parents, parents with milk supply issues, parents of infants born via surrogacy and adoptive or foster parents.

“Parents that are sourcing milk from these networks are trying to do the best thing for their children,” Dr Koplin said.

“But sourcing milk from these informal networks carries risks that parents might not be aware of – and need to take into account.”

Dr Koplin and his colleagues say a formal, regulated system is the best approach, and the first step must be to give breast or human milk a legal definition so donations can be screened and regulated in the same way as blood donations.

Until now, breast milk has not been legally defined as a tissue or a food, resulting in a “regulatory vacuum”.

“We recommend a consistent and uniform network of human milk banking and sharing where the safety of donors and recipients is protected,” a research paper co-authored by Dr Koplin said.

“We argue that this might be achieved by defining human milk as a tissue, undergoing screening and storing practices similar to those currently used for blood donation.”

The current lack of clarity is dangerous, Dr Koplin warned.

-AAP

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