When we think of feeding babies, the black market of breast milk is not what comes to mind, but for many people, it’s a reality. Because breast milk is considered a food, it’s not regulated like other things of the body, such as blood, semen, and organs. This allows people to buy and sell it on their own, without rules, or interference. And that’s exactly what people are doing.
While there are traditional breast milk banks, like the ones run by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, where every donation is screened for drugs and diseases and pasteurized, there are also for-profit organizations like Medolac and Prolacta, who sell exclusively to hospitals. But one of the only options for individuals to purchase breast milk for their own use is through an online group. Online milk banks and Facebook groups have sprung up all over. Selling breast milk has quickly become big business. The average price for one ounce of breast milk typically ranges between $1 to $3, with the price going up the more refined the milk becomes (such as vegan or gluten free). Yet these online groups are not really milk banks. Sites such as Only the Breast serve as a platform where people who are searching for breast milk can find those selling it. The transaction happens between the two people and the milk goes directly from one person’s hands to the others. While the idea behind the groups is simple and considerate, moms helping other moms, there are always people who are going to take advantage of situations.
While the majority of mothers selling their breast milk are not out to do harm, there are those who are trying to cheat the system through whatever means possible. According to a story published by Fox News, researchers from the National Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, purchased 102 bags of breast milk online. After examining the milk, 10 were found to contain at least some portion of cow’s milk and 72 of them had unsafe levels of bacteria. While many of us would like to believe people selling breast milk for babies would ensure it was safe, the buyer has no way of knowing how the milk was stored, the health of the mother, or how old the milk is. Because of these risks, both the FDA and the AAP have issued warnings regarding online breast milk and encourage mothers to avoid it. Some researchers have identified another consequence of the online milk trade. There is fear some low-income mothers may opt to sell their breast milk instead of feeding it to their own children.
Most mothers want to do what’s best for their babies, and they believe feeding breast milk is the healthiest way to nourish their child. Babies who drink breast milk receive both short-term and life-long benefits, including a stronger immune system and a reduction in ear infections. Combined with the fact breast milk is designed exclusively for human babies and contains just the right amount of calories and fat, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers solely breastfeed for the first six months of a child’s life, then at least partially for another six months. But not all mothers can breast feed. Not only is breastfeeding a huge commitment, but many women just aren’t able to enough milk to sustain their baby. Whether it’s because of a health reason, medication, lack of milk production, or a stubborn baby that just won’t latch on, sometimes breastfeeding isn’t an option. Often times these women turn to the underground breast milk market. Although they are only trying to help their babies, what they’re really doing is putting their child at risk.
Did you use a milk bank or know someone who did? Had you ever heard about this issue before?