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Babies may not drink, non-screened donor human milk, doctors warn

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Donor human milk that is screened, pasteurized and distributed through milk banks may protect preemies against a serious illness, but donated milk purchased online or obtained via friends, there may even babies are sick, say U.S. pediatricians.

In the first policy statement on the use of donor breast milk, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the use of the internet or informal human milk sharing. These sources of human milk carries the risk of bacterial or viral infection, or exposure to medications, drugs, herbs, or other substances.

The majority of donor milk provided by milk banks through the hospital neonatal intensive care units, and is usually reserved for preemies and other vulnerable children. With a limited supply, some parents are to obtain donor breastmilk directly from other parents or from internet sources that are less safe since they vary greatly in the screening of donors and methods of milk storage and transport.

“We do not recommend direct milk to share, even if they have used home methods to try to pasteurize it,” said Dr. Steven Abrams of the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, the lead author of the policy.

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“Milk banks are tightly regulated and a number of established and proven method of pasteurization to remove substantially all the risks of transmission of infections,” Abrams added by e-mail.

Breastmilk offers benefits for all newborns, but especially for children with a weight of less than 1500 grams (about 3.5 pounds), according to the AAP. Studies show babies fed human milk have lower rates of what’s known as necrotizing enterocolitis, a life-threatening intestinal disorder that primarily affects premature babies, as well as a lower risk of lung and eye diseases.

The mother’s own milk is always preferred, partly because some of breast milk’s beneficial biological components can be reduced after pasteurization.

But donor human milk can be an effective alternative when maternal milk is not available or falls short of the child should, according to the AAP. Reliable, safe supplies of donor breastmilk from established milk banks are still limited, however.

Women who can’t afford or access milk bank donations would be better off seeking help from friends than from the internet, said JoAnne stephen king, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, who was not involved in the policy.

It is possible to pasteurize donor milk at home using what is known as the Holder of the pasteurization method heats the milk to 145 degrees for a half hour and then gradually cooled, or by flash-heating, He said by e-mail.

“Infant formula provides the nutrients that the baby need, but has no additional benefits for the health,” He said. “Donor milk from a mother gets from friends that is pasteurized by the above methods would be superior to infant formula.”

But she warned that the donor milk from the internet or that has not been pasteurized can not only babies exposed to bacteria or viral contaminants, it may not even contain milk.

Wrong unpasteurized milk can transmit infections, many clinicians consider home pasteurization unsafe and discouraging, even when women get milk from people they know, said Dr. Valerie Flaherman, nursery director at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center.

“Mother’s milk provides the most secure and suitable nutrition for a baby,” Flaherman, who was not involved in the policy statement, said by e-mail.

“Buying milk from the internet and feeding of babies is a dangerous and risks giving the baby a infection, an infection transmitted directly from an infected donor, or an infection which occurs because the milk storage conditions were bad,” Flaherman added. “The formula is prepared and stored according to FDA guidelines and is a much safer choice than casually shared breast milk.”

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