Think peer-to-peer donated breastmilk is safe? Think again.

It’s all the rage on natural parenting websites and forums. Feeling guilty that you can’t provide enough breastmilk for your baby? Just get some from your friends on the Internet.

What could be more natural than sharing human milk?

According to Human Milk 4 Human Babies, a large internet milk sharing network:

Breastmilk, the biologically normal sustenance for humankind, is a free-flowing resource and mothers of the world are willing to share it. Milksharing is a vital tradition that has been taken from us, and it is crucial that we regain trust in ourselves, our neighbors, and in our fellow women…

To that end:

HM4HB has a presence in 52 countries around the world. There are 130 Facebook community pages and over 20,000 community page members. These virtual communities are run by 300 hardworking, multicultural administrators who lovingly and graciously volunteer their time to keep HM4HB continually focused on its mission, vision and values. Through our pages, hundreds of babies in need receive breastmilk every single day.

What could be more natural than sharing human milk?

How about sharing human disease?

The dirty little secret of peer-to-peer sharing of unpasteurized breastmilk is that a surprising amount of it is contaminated with dangerous viruses.

That’s what Cohen, et al. found in Retrospective review of serological testing of potential human milk donors.

Of 1091 potential donors, 3.3% were positive on screening serology, including 6 syphilis, 17 hepatitis B, 3 hepatitis C, 6 HTLV [human T cell lymphotropic virus] and 4 HIV.

The authors did not test random women off the street. They screened women who had volunteered to donate to Mothers’ Milk Bank of San Jose, California, USA, a not-far-profit member of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America who had already passed preliminary testing.

Potential milk donors consent to a multi-level screening process according to HMBANA guidelines and do not receive any payment for donating. In brief, this process begins with screening by their obstetricians for history or signs of significant illness, including hepatitis, syphilis and HIV. After being screened again with a questionnaire similar to that used by blood banks, remaining potential donors have blood samples drawn for serological testing for syphilis, HIV, HTLV-l and 2, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.


We found that 3.3% of the women who voluntarily sought to donate milk to our milk bank had positive serological screening tests for syphilis, HIV, HTLV-1 and 2, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

That does not mean that fully 3.3% of the donor women had the disease. Viral screening tests have a significant false positive rate.

Potential donors to tissue banks in the USA were found to have a 3.16% prevalence of positive screening for the same viral agents, with 1.48% confirmed positive. This screening result is similar to what we report here. Although we do not have results of confirmatory testing, we would expect a similar rate of false positives for our screening.

The true incidence of virus bearing breastmilk would be approximately 1.6%. That’s a remarkably high level of exposure to deadly disease.

The conclusion is obvious:

The use of unpasteurised donor human milk from untested women may pose a significant health risk to exposed infants.


There is a clear need to ensure the safety of all body fluids and tissues, including donor human milk, which may be donated from one person to another. In California, where our bank is located, milk banks are considered tissue banks, and therefore are licensed and regulated as such.

That’s why reputable breastmilk banks pasteurize donated milk. Just as you wouldn’t allow your infant to have a transfusion of blood contaminated with HIV, you shouldn’t allow your infant to have a bottle of breastmilk contaminated with HIV.

Who could disagree with that? You guessed it, certain lactation consultants, like Karleen D. Gribble, BRurSc, Ph.D,

… an Adjunct Fellow in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney. Her research interests include adoptive breastfeeding, long-term breastfeeding, nonnutritional aspects of breastfeeding, child protection and breastfeeding, peer-to-peer milk sharing and models of care for traumatized children… Karleen is active in advocacy and teaching in the areas of infant feeding in emergencies and the marketing of infant formula. She is also an Australian Breastfeeding Association Community Educator.

In the article Milk sharing and formula feeding: Infant feeding risks in comparative perspective?, Gribble acknowledges that human breastmilk can carry deadly pathogens, but insists that efforts to regulate it are culturally driven

… [S]haring human milk between women and babies is perceived to be like sharing other bodily fluids or tissue. Because the practice of transfusion and of organ transplantation are heavily regulated by medicine (and for good reason), a culture that considers human milk to be another regulated bodily substance can only conceive of milk sharing as an activity that occurs rarely and under medical supervision.

But, but, but breastmilk is totally different. Yes, it is … it totally is.

… [H]uman milk is not a medicine and, while it is a bodily fluid, it is not like blood. Human milk is a substance created in one body that is excreted in order to be ingested by another body.

Ooh, ooh, ooh, I know another way it is totally different. It is white!

As such, human milk is sui generis, and it is in part because it is unique that there are such stringent cultural proscriptions on its articulations. Ultimately, the FDA, … and Health Canada seem to be operating under what philosopher Rhonda Shaw has identified as the “Yuk Factor”—responding to the dominant cultural meaning of milk sharing rather than the medical issues associated with milk sharing.

At this point, you are probably thinking that I am making this up. It is difficult to imagine anything  as moronic as insisting that efforts to remove HIV, hepatitis and syphilis from donor breastmilk is culturally driven.

Unfortunately, Gribble is spewing her stupidity to the general public as well as in esoteric journals. An article on the website Megaphone Oz, No use crying over shared milk, includes this:

The risks of milk sharing include the transmission of bacteria and viruses such as CMV, HTLV and HIV. But in Australia, these risks are incredibly rare says Dr Karleen Gribble from the University of Western Sydney’s School of Nursing and Midwifery…

“You’re really at a greater risk of being struck by lightning,” Gribble says.

Apparently Gribble has problems with basic arithmetic as well as basic logic. The risk of being struck by lightening is in the range of 1/1,000,000. The risk of unpasteurized donor breastmilk being contaminated with deadly pathogens is 1.6/100. Therefore, the risk of contaminated breastmilk is 1,000 times greater than the risk of being struck by lightening, but what’s a few zeros among friends.

Yes, sharing breastmilk is totally natural, but so is sharing deadly pathogens. It is only a matter of time before babies begin getting ill and dying from hepatitis and HIV contracted from peer-to-peer donated breastmilk.

42 Responses to “Think peer-to-peer donated breastmilk is safe? Think again.”

    November 26, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    When I was 26 years old, I learned my HBsAg was reactive when I was required to undergo medical exam for an employment (so depressed I wasn’t hired and the doctor had to write in big words, ‘not fit to work’ on my medical result clearance). It was my first time to be tested with that kind of blood work, so I have no idea when I contacted hepatitis B virus. My husband and I are the only ones who knew about my situation. I am so embarrassed and ashamed because hepatitis B is considered as an STD, like the infamous AIDS/HIV. My husband has no hepatitis B (thankfully) but I fear that even with his hepatitis B vaccine, he will get my disease, though doctors assures us he is safe from me.I always sleep longer than usual on weekends, always tired, often experiences tummy ache, sometimes unexpected skin itchiness/rashes, arthritis, irregular bowel movement and am temperamental But today am totally cure with the help of this clinic i came across on this web FORUM, the clinic name (HEALTH MED LAB) here is their email CONTACT THEM IF YOU ARE diagnosed OF HEPATITIS B VIRUS or any other sickness

  2. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    exaggerated? really? where are you getting this info? What is your stance on BF with Hep C?

  3. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 8:46 pm #

    better informed, but your facts are a little off. The mothers MUST BE ON HIV TREATMENT, and they are now saying 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding with medications as needed and ordered. Current data as of 2015 WHO

    • SuperGDZ
      August 8, 2015 at 9:44 am #

      You’re replying to a comment that’s 3 years old to complain that it doesn’t take into account 2015 data?

  4. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 8:43 pm #


  5. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 8:41 pm #

    formula has some ingredients in common with Elmer’s glue…check it out.

  6. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 8:37 pm #


  7. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 8:34 pm #

    so what are your creds? Dr. Kitty? Any breastfeeding expertise? Did you know what the WHO suggests in those countries regarding breastfeeding and HIV? As of reading your post, I think not. Try again Doc? So how many years ago was this so called study? Do you even know what the “current time frame” means in medical research and studies?

  8. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 8:08 pm #

    What I really dislike is people talking without ANY background or research done to support their ignorance. Do you even know how many babies die every year in the US alone due to infant formulas? It does NOT come from lactivists. check the for their recommendations. Do the research before you judge and condemn.

    • Megan
      August 7, 2015 at 8:52 pm #

      Please tell us then. How many infants die every year in the US alone due to infant formula?

      And why are you commenting on an article almost 3 years old?

    • Amy Tuteur, MD
      August 7, 2015 at 9:12 pm #

      I know. ZERO term infants die each year from properly prepared infant formula.

    • Poogles
      August 8, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

      Oh please do tell – how many babies die every year in the US from commercial infant formulas? Make sure to cite your source.

  9. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 8:05 pm #

    check LACTNET for the possibility of infant effects. May actually be ZERO.

  10. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

    The formula is NOT strictly regulated and anyone who thinks it is needs to do some research for themselves. Nestle who makes GERBER products sends their formula that doesn’t quite meet the very lax guidelines (not restrictions by any means) sends it overseas and is responsible for the deaths of thousands of infants and children. Check this our for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. Research why the is a WORLD WIDE BOYCOTT OF ALL NESTLE PRODUCTS!

  11. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

    So Absolutely true! I have dealt with them personally too. They charge hospitals $10,000 a month for ONE infant who get human milk fortifier made from human milk as opposed to cows milk. They get it for free in many cases and are getting rich off of it!

  12. nickandderyl
    August 7, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

    BTW, OB zone for an ER doc has no baring on this. 99% of ER docs have no idea what they are doing when it comes to OB, and NOTHING when it comes to NICU and breastfeeding. I bet he doesn’t even know what the bio-hazard rating is for breast milk.

  13. RoobiiGloom
    July 1, 2014 at 4:00 am #

    As an adoptive mother, and a biological mother that breastfed AND formula fed her own children, I did my research and weighed the pro’s and con’s .
    My 6 1/2 month old son has been fed 100% peer to peer donated breastmilk since he was placed in our custody at 5 days old.
    I have no regrets, and will continue to provide him with donated milk as long as our donors are willing to give it.
    My children were born in hospitals, and all are vaccinated. They attend public school. We have a TV, computers, ipads. My husband and I both have higher educations, and he is a high level exec at a very well know tech company. I work in mental health.
    The information was OVERWHELMINGLY pro feeding donated breastmilk over formula, and I scoured the internet while we waited for our match.Just as some find home birth an unacceptable risk to take, I find formula an unnecessary risk to the health of my child when I have other options afforded to me.

    • Vanessa
      November 16, 2015 at 1:20 am #

      But feeding them a stranger’s body fluids is not an unnecessary risk? Please. I will take safe, scientifically created formula over someone’s body fluids, thank you. My babies thrived on formula and they are healthy at 9 and 7. At least I know that they have no possibility of having a disease or a virus like HIV.

  14. nickandderyl
    February 4, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    ok, just give them salmonella from the water used to mix the formulas in the hospital or in the can of powdered milk being used to feed multiple babies in the NICUs…didn’t think of that did you?

    • PrimaryCareDoc
      February 4, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      Are you saying that water in the USA is routinely contaminated with salmonella?

      Also- any NICU baby is not getting “powdered milk.” They are also not getting powdered formula.

    • Young CC Prof
      February 4, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

      NICU babies are fed formula out of single-use sterile ready-mixed bottles, if they aren’t fed their own mothers’ milk. Trust me.

  15. nickandderyl
    February 4, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    What if the hospitals actually reported the unnecessary c-section rates accurately…same logic.

  16. nickandderyl
    February 4, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

    According to the WHO most of the bacteria and viruses are killed in the infant digestive tract. This is why screening both donor mother and her infant are done.

    • Dr Kitty
      February 4, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

      Screening is done by reputable milk banks.
      Craigslist…no so much.

  17. nickandderyl
    February 4, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    The more you do to milk the less nutritious it is. Testing of women and of the donor infant should be enough to ensure clean milk. A lot of the bacteria people are writing about are also in the birth mother’s milk and they help the infant’s immune system to develop.

    • Mishimoo
      February 4, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

      Yay, salmonella and e. coli! Om nom nom nom, healthy.

  18. nickandderyl
    February 4, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

    The CDC says it is nothing like blood and does NOT need to be treated as such. May the rest of your education was that good…scary!

  19. nickandderyl
    February 4, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

    Yeah…”official-looking: exactly. If you don’t know how to find the REAL Official websites, then don’t post from Google who is not even aloud to be used as references for school work. The WHO actually states that the transmission rates from expressed breast milk are very low. You need to research things like “peer-to-peer breast milk sharing in hospitals and find the .ORG sites.

    • AlisonCummins
      February 4, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

      Google is not a source that can be quoted. It’s a search engine. You might be thinking of Wikipedia?

      Please explain my errors and cite better references than the WHO.

  20. nickandderyl
    February 4, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    And as a Lactation Professional, I would say your numbers are way off! Do more research! Correctly!

  21. nickandderyl
    February 4, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    You need to find the REAL information on how much transmission there is through breast milk. The Lack OF RESEARCHED PROOF OF TRANSMISSION may surprise you. Also, there has never been a recorded case of an health provider contracting ANY disease from handling breast milk even without gloves.

    • Young CC Prof
      February 4, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

      An adult handling milk with unbroken skin versus a baby with an immature immune system drinking large quantities of it. Yup, clearly equal risk there.

  22. nickandderyl
    February 4, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    Exactly! Thank you!!!

  23. nickandderyl
    February 4, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    This article is completely biased and unethical per medical and nursing standards. If you really want to know the truth about something that has been happening in all cultures successfully since the dawn of human existence then don’t be reading a “.com” website that any Tom, Dick , or Harry that say they are a specialist can post on without question. If you truly want expert advise look for “.org, .gov, .edu” type sites. I am a Lactation Educator and this article is pure crap and totally one sided. Most of these women that were tested were out to be paid for their milk which is also unethical in the professional view. Get the correct information before commenting on something you know nothing about!

  24. February 25, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    my sister grabbed my newborn ( we actually had babies the same day) and started breastfeeding him. I told her to stop. she did. end of story.


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