Breast milk banks -- I think they’re a great idea, and would register for one except that I have done my time with the pump and refuse to hook myself up again if I can help it. I’d nurse another woman’s babe in a heartbeat, though, as long as I don’t have to do the 3 a.m. feeding.
But a new site called Only The Breast enables moms not just to donate, but to sell their breast milk. This is great for moms who cannot breastfeed but want their babies to have breast milk. But, does adding money into the equation make this more dangerous or somehow unethical?
First, to the idea of sharing breast milk, the visceral, immediate reaction of many is to say “yuck.” It seems unsafe, like sharing needles, or just seems gross, for reasons I will never understand. People are squeamish about breast milk, but, as Deirdre McLary, a lactation consultant and doula who founded Breastfeeding Arts and Nyack Birth Services, points out, “we’ve been trained to think it’s more natural to drink milk from another species, intended for their babies – how is a cow’s milk less gross than our own?”
Having fed my daughter Penelope formula when her long NICU stay made it difficult for me to produce enough milk for her, I have to also say that I personally find formula to be grosser than breast milk. It has a chemical smell that scares me. Admittedly, that's a visceral reaction, but many seem to have a similarly visceral reaction to the idea of milk-sharing, and I think both reactions are irrational.
Once we get past the taboo, the safety issues are easily fixed. Breast milk can be pasteurized just as cow’s milk is. The accepted process is called Holder Pasteurization, but it can also be flash-pasteurized at home.
I think the sticking point for many is that we can imagine a situation where someone who is unhealthy – a drug user who needs the money to score, or someone with HIV desperate for income – would see her milk as a commodity, and wouldn’t be honest about its origins. But it seems to me that’s an argument for this becoming more normal and regulated, so donors can be properly screened – not for eliminating the practice. As one poster Only The Breast says, men get paid for sperm, women get paid for eggs – how is this any different?
On the other hand, the milk-swapping organization Human Milk 4 Human Babies does not condone the practice of selling milk – but I could not get a comment as to why. They may just be worried about liability in the event that someone sells bad milk in their network.
The important thing is to keep third parties to a minimum, so that most of the money goes to the moms, not some corporation. At $1 or more an ounce, breast milk can really be a big help to a mom who’s able to produce a little extra. By contrast, milk banks that provide human milk to hospitals can charge $10-$20 an ounce.
I really don’t have a problem with a mom taking her extra milk – and some of us have friends with a freezer full – and making a profit off of it if she needs to. If she can and wants to donate it, great – but nobody’s going to tell me I can’t get paid for something that is so valuable and takes such effort.
Would you sell your breast milk? What do you think of the breast milk biz?
Image via Otterman56/Flickr