How milk banks keep donated breast milk safe for babies, part 2

In the first part of this post, we reviewed what breast milk banks are and how they help provide infants with nourishment in many cases.

To keep infants safe, milk banks screen and test milk from donors before passing it along to the hospitals that administer the milk.

What can make donated breast milk unsafe?

Viruses: Viruses can be extremely damaging to newborns and can be transferred through breast milk. If a donor has an active virus the milk could be contaminated. HIV and hepatitis are among the most serious viruses and can sometimes go undetected at first.

Bacteria: A donor might not realize that her milk has been contaminated by a bacterial pathogen, such as Salmonella or E. coli. A study found that breast milk shared or sold informally over the Internet — therefore not scientifically tested or treated beyond self-reported screening — contained much more bacteria than milk from milk banks. 74% of samples were colonized with Gram-negative bacteria and exhibited higher levels of aerobic, coliform and Staphylococcus bacteria.

Medication: Newborns can’t metabolize drugs as well as older babies or toddlers can. Although most medication taken by a mother appears in only trace amounts in the milk, newborns whose entire diet consists of breast milk face a higher risk of being impacted.

Nicotine: Aside from the harm caused by smoking around newborns, large doses of nicotine in breast milk can cause nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhea in babies. It can also impact the smell, color and flavor of the milk.

Alcohol: Moderate-to-heavy alcohol consumption can impact breast milk, even changing its smell and flavor. The intake of alcohol through breast milk can affect the baby’s motor skill development, slow weight gain and cause drowsiness. It’s recommended that milk produced within 90-120 minutes after a mother consumes alcohol be discarded, and that mothers limit intake to a single drink per day while lactating.

Caffeine: Excess levels of caffeine in breast milk — not just from coffee, but also tea, pop and chocolate — have been shown to cause irritability, fussiness and poor sleeping habits in babies.

Illegal substances: Commonly abused substances — including marijuana, methamphetamine and opioids — do transfer to breast milk. THC, the main compound of marijuana, can be present in breast milk at rates up to 8 times higher than the mother’s blood level, and are metabolized by any baby ingesting it.

Neogen has validated many of its test kits for use with breast milk testing, and is proud to support milk banks in their efforts to provide safe, nutritious milk to newborns. Neogen has over 100 kits to detect more than 300 common drugs of abuse. Click here to learn more.

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