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Should You Sell Your Breast Milk?

Some mothers turn to the market when the freezer gets full, but at what risk?

Published on: June 15, 2016

Reading a book set in the 1800s or earlier, you may come across the term “wet nurse,” which refers to a lactating woman who is brought in to nurse another woman’s infant. The modern equivalent is a milk bank, where women can donate their excess breast milk. But not everyone is giving of themselves for free.

Donations for babies in need

Many nursing mothers would agree that their breast milk is hard-won and in short supply — and they save every drop they can for their own baby. But some mothers produce more breast milk than their child could ever drink. Discarding excess quantities of milk seems wasteful, so what’s a woman to do with all that extra breast milk in the fridge or freezer?

For some women who produce an abundant milk supply, the next decision is a no-brainer: They donate it. The majority of the recipients of human milk donations are hospitalized preterm or sick babies, according to Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin. These little ones benefit from the nutrition, easy digestibility and infection-fighting components of FDA-approved pasteurized human milk. 

The key word for these milk banks, of course, is “donate.” Mothers with extra milk unselfishly give their resources to those in need (after thorough infectious-disease testing of the mother, testing of the milk for bacteria and a multi-level screening process). There is, however, a profit to be made from breast milk, and some women prefer to go that route. 

For-profit human milk banks

Nonprofit milk banks increasingly encounter competition from for-profit banks that are paying mothers — about $1 an ounce — for their surplus milk. Companies like Prolacta Bioscience have compared breast milk to “white plasma,” believing it has disease-treating potential for both babies and adults. The complex sugars in breast milk are attractive to biotech companies working to develop products to help improve the health of the digestive tract.  

Ads on Only the Breast advertise '40oz a day of fresh breast milk, limited dairy, well-rounded diet' or 'Mom with plenty of extra fresh or frozen fatty milk.' Asking price? Typically between $1 and $2.50 per ounce.

While for-profit milk banks like Prolacta do provide some milk to hospitals, they focus primarily on promoting their agenda to make milk fortifiers and formulas that may ultimately be too costly for many parents to purchase for their babies. These efforts are reducing donations of milk that could be given to babies in need of nourishment right now. 

Mom-to-mom sales

Of course, there are ways to avoid “the middle man” and simply sell your breast milk mother to mother. From Craigslist ads to Facebook groups to online communities, moms can bypass the overhead and rigmarole of milk bank requirements by selling directly to another mom, while earning a few bucks and the satisfaction of doing something good with their surplus milk.

Ads on Only the Breast advertise “40oz a day of fresh breast milk, limited dairy, well-rounded diet” or “Mom with plenty of extra fresh or frozen fatty milk.” Asking price? Typically between $1 and $2.50 per ounce.

But this kind of person-to-person exchange comes with plenty of dangers. What if you purchase milk from another mom and your baby suddenly gets sick? Would you blame the donating mom? Maybe she isn’t as healthy as she claimed to be. These are lawsuits waiting to happen.

Risky business

Opponents of individuals or companies that pay mothers for their breast milk believe that the desire to earn cash in such a way may incite women to hide health problems that could make their milk unsafe for other babies — or even mix their milk with water or cow’s milk in an effort to increase the volume that they’re turning for a profit.

Informal milk donations generally occur between one or several specific mothers to a specific baby, according to KellyMom, the parenting and breastfeeding website. In these situations, the babies receiving the milk donations are typically healthy and full-term newborns or older; they have fewer dietary limitations (and, therefore, fewer worries about what’s in the donated milk). The demand comes from mothers who believe breast milk is best and want to provide their baby with the nourishment that they may not be able to provide on their own. 

With unregulated breast milk donations or sales, there is no way to guarantee that the milk in question has been handled safely or screened for health risks. While plenty of milk-seeking moms trust donating moms simply because they are already nursing their own babies, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend any informal sharing because of infection concerns. 

In a society where “breast is best” is touted by many, mothers who don’t nurse, can’t nurse, or prefer not to nurse but still want the benefits of this liquid gold have plenty of ways to get breast milk — if they can afford it and are willing to take the risks.

Originally published by Avvo

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