Is Buying Breast Milk Safe?

Cynthia Dewey and her husband knew, even before adopting their son Alex, that she would do whatever it took to provide him with mother's milk.

"I think it is a gift from God to breast feed," Cynthia Dewey tells CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes. "My next best was to make sure he could get breast milk, so that he could grow healthy and strong, and be the best little boy he could be."

Like most moms, Dewey has gotten the message that breast milk is best, building immunities against ear infection, diarrhea and respiratory illness. So she's collected a freezer full of breast milk donated from women on the underground breast milk network.

Dewey finds them through parenting classes and word of mouth. And she meets every donor face to face.

Turning away from processed formula may be a trend. The demand for human milk has increased 37 percent in the past four years. But seeking out "untested" donations might not be safe. HIV, hepatitis and some viral infections can be passed through breast milk.

That's led to a human-milk banking system. There are licensed facilities serving premature infants and sick babies. The milk is pasteurized and thoroughly tested.

Pauline Sakamoto, director of Mother's Milk Bank, explains, "It is quite similar to what the blood banking industry does."

But there are only a handful of human-milk banks nationwide, and with demand for breast milk rising, bootleg breast milk sales are now popping up on the Internet. Women are selling their own milk at prices equal to the legitimate milk banks, about $3 an ounce, but with no testing whatsoever.

Sakamoto says, "Do you know if they've had past history of drug use that might be contra indicated? Do you know if they're smokers on the Internet? So to me it's just, the Internet, I think that there is a lot of risk."

Dewey says she'd never buy from the Internet, but she didn't think she could afford the milk bank either. Now, she is re-thinking the idea of testing.

Until then, little Alex's underground network is thriving, and so is he.
  • Tatiana Morales

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