Answer Man: Is it safe to buy breast milk?

News-DemocratOctober 26, 2013 

A friend of mine is considering buying breast milk, of all things, over the Internet to feed her newborn infant. I don't think this is such a good idea, but I can't seem to change her mind. Do you have any information on this practice? _ Helen Decker, of Fairview Heights

If you didn't realize it, thousands of women now offer their milk on countless Internet sites. But while it might seem a godsend to women who can't produce enough of their own or who want the convenience, such purchases might provide anything but the milk of human kindness to babies who consume it.

In an article in Pediatrics, researchers found most such offerings to be contaminated in some way. In testing 100 samples bought on a public milk-sharing site, they found 75 percent contained either high levels of bacteria overall or disease-causing bacteria, including fecal contamination and salmonella. Nearly one in five samples were not even shipped in dry ice or other safe methods.

The contamination was likely the result of poor hygiene during collection, dirty containers, contaminated breast-milk pumps or poor shipping practices, according to Sarah Keim, the principal investigator at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and the study's lead author.

She said the study focused on bacteria that are usually harmless but, if they grow of control, can cause illnesses in infants, including staphylococcus and streptococcus. Specifically, the researchers found 72 percent of samples had detectable levels of gram-negative bacteria, which are associated with bloodstream infections and fecal contamination; 63 percent tested positive for staphylococcus; 36 percent were positive for streptococcus; and 3 percent were found to contain salmonella.

Further, experts warn, you do not know the health history of such sellers or whether they may be using drugs that could find their way into the milk. The Food and Drug Administration warns against using breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet; the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages feeding human breast milk from unscreened donors.

In one of your recent columns, you used the common expression "it gave me the willies." I've often wondered about the origin of the phrase. Why poor "willie"? Why not the bobs or the freds? _ B.R., of Fairview Heights

Just researching this question can give you the willies, because most sources tend to throw up their hands, saying only that the expression seemed to pop up in the late 1800s for reasons they can't explain.

But with some dogged research, I found a handful of experts willing to hazard a guess of how this phrase synonymous with "it gave me the creeps" became popular. So just in time for Halloween, I leave it to you to choose the one that sounds least _ or, perhaps in this case, most _ creepy to you:

Any child who has ever worn woolen clothes knows how itchy and uncomfortable they can be sometimes. Some theorize that "willies" may be an offshoot of "woolies" to describe the nervous discomfort the fabric can cause.

In his "Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins," William Morris traces the willies to the old slang expression "willie-boy," meaning "sissy." He suggests that such youngsters would be prone to the "willies" and that "willie-boy" simply may have been shortened over the years.

But the most logical theory may come from Evan Morris, who writes a popular column called The Word Detective (www.word-detective.com). He has found that spirits known variously as "wilis," "wilas" and "vilis" have populated Slavic folklore for centuries. One apparently even turned up in a Harry Potter novel.

"Wilis (pronounced "willies") are usually depicted as the spirits of young women who have died from love gone wrong in some respect and haunt the forests forever after, luring young men to their deaths," he writes. "While there is no direct evidence tying 'vilis' to 'the willies,' it seems reasonable to conclude, especially considering the 'creepy foreboding' connotation."

And, before you ask, "willy-nilly," meaning haphazard or without order, grew out of the now-archaic verb "nill," meaning "unwilling" or the opposite of will. So like a damsel deciding whether she was loved or not by picking petals off a daisy, people apparently used to say "will I, nill I," as they mulled over whether to do something. Such indecisiveness eventually led to the term "willy-nilly."

Today's trivia

Who was the last rookie pitcher to start Game 7 for the St. Louis Cardinals?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: Hall-of-Famer Rogers Hornsby, who hit over .400 three times during his career, belted 42 home runs in 1922 and then managed the Redbirds to their first World Championship in 1926, when they beat the Yankees in seven games. For this accomplishment, he demanded a $10,000 raise to $50,000 _ and was promptly traded to the New York Giants on Dec. 20, 1926, for Frankie Frisch and Jimmy Ring. After 23 seasons, he retired with the second-highest batting average of all time, .358. His .424 in 1924 has never been matched since, and he is the only player ever to hit at least 40 home runs and post a .400 average in the same season.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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