Warning to mothers: don’t go to the internet for your breastmilk, you don’t know where it’s been.

In what can only be described as a victory for sanctimony over common sense, it appears an increasing number of new mums who cannot breastfeed are turning to online suppliers of human breastmilk.

Fuelled by the clear ‘accepted wisdom’ of health workers and ‘official’ advice in leaflets and pamphlets, some mothers believe that any human milk is better for their baby than using formula and, rather than ‘fail’ their child, they become desperate to find alternatives but are too ashamed to discuss the issue with a professional.

It’s from such knots of human distress and despair that the unscrupulous seek to profit, but there is nothing so healing as truth, when it is untarnished by cant.

So there are two truths that should be acknowledged here by all concerned in this process and communicated as early as possible to every new mother.

Firstly, breast feeding may well be better for a child, one could even argue it is preferable to formula feeding, but it is not essential. Plenty of babies have been reared on formula to become healthy children and adults.

Finding yourself, for whatever reason, unable to offer breastmilk to a child, does not make you a failure or bad parent any more than not providing cobalt blue eyes or an IQ of 150.

We all do whatever we can for our offspring up to and occasionally beyond the limits of our individual capabilities; they, you, the authorities, society…whoever has a stake in the matter, can ask no more.

Secondly, there are safe, well managed and perfectly legitimate milk banks throughout the UK, mostly working as charities.

They exist purely to help mothers who cannot breast feed by providing milk donated by other mothers which is properly collected, tested, stored and distributed.

For details of services in your area and practical advice on what you can do, contact the UK Association for Milk Banking here UKAMB .

Part of the Association’s remit is to promote and spread best practice for Milk Banks as embodied in guidelines published by NICE, the government’s clinical watchdog, in February 2010.

But the latest round up of studies suggests that guidelines are just not enough.

In one study only nine out of 101 samples obtained from commercial internet suppliers did not have bacterial growth present.

In another, more than a quarter of the samples were delivered in poor packaging and were unfrozen on arrival.

Evidence was also found of chemical contamination, rendering such milk unfit for consumption by an infant.

The report says, at a minimum, the milk should be screened for Hepatitis B and C, HIV, syphilis and the human T cell lymphotropic virus; the screening should be accredited and transparent.

It might be an impossible task to police every rogue suppler, but at least the public would know what to look for in a potential supplier.

In the meantime, if you do take the decision to take this route, please seek a professional medical opinion before deciding upon a strategy.

It could be a matter of life or death.



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