Milk Sharing for Babies Risky, FDA Says: What's the Danger?

(Oleg Kozlov)

(CBS) Got milk?

That familiar question takes on a new meaning when the milk in question comes not from a cow but from mom herself.

Increasingly, moms unable to provide enough breast milk to sustain ill or premature infants are turning to milk banks, which collect breast milk from moms who have more than they need and dole it out to those who don't have enough, according to ABC News.

Sounds like a good idea, especially since breast milk has long been touted for its health benefits.

But the FDA isn't so sure. Last week it decided that the nation's milk banks could continue to operate without federal regulation but continued to warn moms about the dangers posed by the using another woman's milk.

One big concern, according to the FDA website, is that donor milk might harbor traces of dangerous drugs or infectious diseases, including HIV. And if the milk hasn't been handled and stored properly, it could be contaminated with disease-causing germs.

There are no federal regulations covering milk banks, and only two states - California and New York - regulate them, according to ABC News.

So what's a woman to do when her own milk isn't enough?

The FDA urges women to obtain breast milk only from a bank that takes precautions to ensure milk purity, including screening of donors. One good place to turn, according to the agency, is the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Getting milk directly from an individual is a no-no, the agency says. So is getting milk from one of the Internet-based milk-sharing networks that have sprung up recently.

"There are opportunities for disaster," breast-feeding expert Dr. Ruth Lawrence, professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, told HealthDay. "It's risky. If these are your best friends and they're in good health with no underlying diseases, then fine. I'd be much more supportive of this [Internet-based] concept if we didn't have such wonderful milk banks."

But Emma Kwasnica, co-founder of a milk-sharing network called Eats on Feets, disagrees. "It's kind of like they think we're drug dealing or doing something crazy," she told HealthDay. "We're so afraid of bodily fluids in North America. But breast milk is a very different thing. It's not like semen or blood. It's a food."

What do you think?