For 6-month-old baby Ellen, meals these days are simple -- her mother breast feeds her.
“Every ounce counts -- I call it liquid gold,” said Ellen's mother, Justine Lotridge.
But some experts worry how some other mothers are getting that liquid gold for their babies -- buying it online from strangers.
KTVU went online and in minutes found Bay Area women selling breast milk on Craigslist. Some sellers provided photos of their frozen supply.
Pauline Sakamoto, the Executive Director of the Mother's Milk Bank in San Jose, calls the practice “casual sharing.”
“We know the casual sharing is proliferating dramatically,” said Sakamoto.
It's perfectly legal to buy and sell breast milk. One mother who offers her milk to strangers cited the milk bank's strict requirements. But according to the Sakamoto, acquiring the bodily fluid from a stranger is risky.
“We do find 3.25% of moms who carry or who came out positive in the screening for virus diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B & C and HTLV,” said Sakamoto.
After contacting several sellers, we went to the home of one mother and walked away with a cooler full of breast milk. Just $20 paid for 24 ounces of mother's milk. The same amount would have cost us three times more at the milk bank.
We packed the bottles of milk we bought on dry ice and shipped them to a lab which discovered two types of bacteria in this milk. Though one of the bacterium was deemed naturally occurring and harmless, the other was linked to breast infections.
While the mother selling the milk claimed she didn't drink caffeine, tests found caffeine present. That's why the South Bay Milk Bank tests donated milk before selling it to the public. Parents also need a prescription from their doctor.
The milk at the Milk Bank is pasteurized to kill worrisome bacteria, but the Santa Clara County Public Health Department also tests samples of breast milk donated to the milk bank.
Through testing, health officials have found milk samples containing bacteria that could cause a disease and ultimately harm a baby. And because infections can pass through the milk to the infant, sharing untested raw breast milk can be dangerous.
“I don't think people understand you're taking mothers milk from another person. You don't anything about that person. You don't know about how that milk has been stored,” said Kathleen Slater, Senior Public Health Microbiologist at the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.
The saying goes breast is best, but that may not always be the case.
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