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The Dangerous Side of Breast Milk at All Costs

Buying breast milk online is booming. It's simple supply and demand: Women with excess breast milk sell it to women who can't or choose not to nurse their babies themselves.

On sites like Craigslist, unscreened sellers list their statistics: healthy diet, no alcohol/tobacco/drugs, clean bloodwork. The milk costs about $2 per ounce. The price can triple if obtained from a reputable nonprofit milk bank, which screens donors, pasteurizes and tests the milk.

But much of that healthy milk is slated for hospitals to nurse preemies.

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I felt bad that I couldn't nurse. In fact, I felt incredibly guilty. But I didn't feel bad enough to blindly trust that whatever a stranger was selling was on the up-and-up.

A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics tested 102 samples that had been anonymously bought online.

The results were not positive: Nearly 10 percent had been topped off with cow's milk, which could pose risks for babies with allergies or intolerance. An earlier study of 101 samples obtained online found that 75 percent was contaminated by bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella.

What to do if you want to nurse your baby but can't? First, decide if you can afford milk from the U.S. network of nonprofit milk banks. If you can't, then go easy on yourself.

"I'm a proponent of breast milk," neonatologist Amy Hair told NPR. "But if the option is buying breast milk online from an unscreened donor, and not from a reputable milk bank, I would recommend formula."

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I was one of those mothers who could not nurse for medical reasons. I ended up using formula for both of my babies. I had to be able to trust that what I was feeding them was healthy. That meant buying from companies that had oversight and safety procedures in place.

Millions of healthy children were raised on formula, and many will continue to be. Thankfully, I found that feeding time was still an amazing bonding experience.

In the end, we all try to be the best mothers we can be. Guilt, shame and the drive to nurture our babies with the finest methods out there are huge motivators, but we have to be smart about it. In some cases, even with the best intentions, we may be doing more harm than good.

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In some cases, without even realizing it, we might be doing what makes us feel better instead of what's best for our child. Welcome to motherhood, where your needs will forever fall after your child's. It's a new way of life. It can be difficult and frustrating, but it's actually a beautiful thing. I don't think I was ever truly a "giver" until I gave birth.

Even if that "giving" meant formula instead of breast milk.

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Image via Nationwide Children's Hospital

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