MISSOULA, Mont. - Experts are sending a warning to new mothers who feed their babies with breast milk purchased online.
Testing shows some of that breast milk contained potentially dangerous bacteria, including staph and salmonella.
Researchers bought and tested more than 100 samples sold by women on a popular website. 75 percent of those samples contained high amounts of bacteria that could sicken babies.
That's why many doctors recommend turning to milk banks. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBNA) is made up of 16 nonprofit breast milk banks in the U.S. and Canada.
They screen donors and pasteurize and test the milk before ever distributing it to hospitals or individuals in need.
One of the newest banks, The Mother's Milk Bank of Montana based in Missoula. They'll distribute the first batches this week to individual moms who for one reason or another can breastfeed.
The Missoula nonprofit also dumped out a batch after it came back from a lab in Spokane positive with potentially dangerous bacteria.
"It wouldn't be safe to distribute to a hospital or an individual recipient," said Jessica Welborn, the executive co-director for the Mothers' Milk Bank of Montana.
Mothers' Milk Bank of Montana has to follow strict guidelines, testing every batch and every donor.
"They have to get a consent form signed by their OB and their baby's pediatrician," said Welborn. "We have to have a signature from both of those doctors before moving forward, then we send the donor for a blood test."
It's all part of keeping some of the most vulnerable population safe since much of milk from these banks goes to hospitals for babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) -- "Premature babies, babies that are sick with all kinds of different life threatening conditions," Welborn explained.
But buying breast milk from a milk bank isn't cheap. A 4-ounce bottle costs $16 dollars at the Mother's Milk Bank of Montana. Depending on the age of the baby it can easily cost a family $100 or more, a day.
"Just so many families can't afford it, so it doesn't become a viable option for them," Welborn said.
That's likely why some moms turns to other donation sites to get breast milk. A quick online search brings up numerous websites where moms can donate and buy breast milk -- even Facebook pages with posts from moms whose babies need it and women who can donate. The problem is that milk isn't guaranteed safe.
"It's safest, by far safest, to get donor milk through a milk bank," Welborn said. "We screen our donors so thoroughly and because we pasteurize the milk and because we would never dispense the milk that had any contamination in it."
The FDA says those who consider milk sharing need to make sure to talk to the baby's pediatrician and consider the risks. The FDA also strongly advises against buying directly from individuals or the internet.
For more information about the Mothers' Milk Bank of Montana click here.