FDA discourages women from sharing breast milk (though freeze-dried, highly processed cow’s milk is fine)

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Yesterday I was having a conversation at dinner with a lady and the subject of milk-drinking came up. While women have generally been utterly persuaded that milk (and other dairy products) are somehow essential to bone health. Paleontological evidence suggests that we had no bone problems to speak of prior to the introduction of dairy products, which should perhaps cause us to question the ‘need’ for this foodstuff. But never mind that: the evidence shows that calcium derived from dairy products actually has a quite limited role in the formation of healthy bone in women (and children for that matter). See here and here for more on this.

I pointed out that the idea of drinking the milk of another species of animal may be culturally acceptable to us, but that this practice perhaps goes against our own intuitive sense of what is healthy and appropriate and what is not. I asked my dinner companion to imagine her response to me offering her some breast milk I had, say, taken from a dog. She wasn’t too keen. I countered that the milk was ‘safe’, because I’d pasteurised it. She was still not keen. And yet very few of us are similarly repulsed by the idea of drinking cow’s milk.

I said that I thought it was somewhat ironic that we generally have no issue with the concept of drinking cow’s milk, most individuals would feel uneasy about the concept of drinking human breast milk. Some actually feel more comfortable with the idea of feeding babies highly-processed formula feeds based on cow’s milk. I suggest that somewhere along the line many of us have managed to become detached from our intuitive sense of what is best for us and our children.

I wouldn’t normally have dwelled on this conversation at all if I had not today come across this story. It concerns a new trend in the women to source breast milk for their babies on-line.  I read that an organisation calling itself ‘Eats for Feets’ is helping connect women who want to donate breast milk with those who need it. Quite honestly now, reading about this service warmed my heart. The idea of women donating their nutrient-rich, appropriate milk to other women in need seems to me to be a beautiful thing. But not all agree.

Because as you’ll see from this story, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the US has issued a statement warning women not to source breast milk from the internet. It warns of risk of disease or contamination from bacteria, drugs or chemicals.

Apparently an official statement is due next Thursday, and until then we can only speculate on the evidence on which the FDAs position is based. However, something tells me that there will be no hard evidence for any significant risk from the practice of the sharing of breast milk, and that this will be another example of a government agency publishing guidelines that not only are not useful, but may well hinder health.

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