Intended for healthcare professionals


Risks of the unregulated market in human breast milk

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 24 March 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1485
  1. Sarah Steele, lecturer1,
  2. Jeanine Martyn, trainer2,
  3. Jens Foell, senior honorary clinical lecturer1
  1. 1Global Health, Policy and Innovation Unit, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London, UK
  2. 2Lifespan, 167 Point Street, Rhode Island, USA
  1. Correspondence to: S Steele s.steele{at}

Urgent need for regulation

As healthcare workers we routinely emphasise the nutritional superiority of breast milk for infant feeding to new and expectant mothers. Some women, though, find themselves unable to breast feed. Although some of them turn to clinicians and health visitors for advice, as many as three quarters of new mothers now look to the internet for guidance.1 Online these women find emotive, moralising discourse around breast feeding and often fear inducing warnings that formula is inferior to human milk for infant feeding.

They may also find sites that facilitate the buying, selling, and trading of breast milk, as well as high profile media sites featuring celebrities who are engaged in this trade. In the absence of warnings about the dangers of buying milk online, this option might seem healthy and beneficial—the better choice if one can’t breast feed oneself.2 What mothers, and many healthcare workers, don’t realise is that this market is dangerous, putting infant health at risk.

The online market in human milk, growing fastest in …

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