Do Moms Who Donate Breastmilk Deserve Money? Or Should They Give It Up Free?

breast milk

There aren't only three choices on how to feed your baby -- there are four. Moms can breastfeed, formula-feed, a mix of breastfeeding and formula feeding, or use donor milk. The latter is becoming more popular, which brings up an important topic -- should breastmilk become a big money-making industry? It's going for up to $4 an ounce. I think monitizing breastmilk is problematic.


Elizabeth Currid-Halkett is one of those moms who produces a lot of breast milk. In her op-ed piece for The New York Times "Give Breast Milk," Currid-Halkett said how she produced over 2,500 ounces of extra breast milk. I'm in awe. I have twins who are now 5-years-old, but I breastfed for almost a year and a half, though I did need to supplement with formula.

I couldn't produce enough. Many moms are what I call super-producers who have plenty of breast milk to feed their babies and fill a freezer. She doesn't believe in profiting off of her good fortune -- she donates it to milk banks who distribute to hospitals for babies in the NICU. She compared giving breast milk much like giving blood -- it should be donated and used to help those who really need it.

More From The Stir: The Business of Selling Breast Milk Is a Great Idea

I'm conflicted over whether donating breast milk is the same as donating blood. Blood drives are a one-off, fairly quick commitment, while breast milk donations could take hours and hours of your time attached to a pump, which can be viewed as a form of torture. Though a needle in your arm draining blood isn't a good time, either. But the sentiment of donating breast milk to babies in need is a noble act -- I really admire moms who do this for others. It shows how we are all a part of this tribe called motherhood together, that we can mother others, show selflessness, and put more good into this world. In this case, the form of good is liquid gold. Liquid gold that is being commodified. 

And that is the concern that is brought up by Slate XXFactor writer Amanda Marcotte. In Marcotte's piece "Wet Nursing Is Back! Sort Of," she looks at breast milk donation for- and non-profit, and ends with the very thought-provoking sentence. " ... we're on a path where poor women's bodies are being commodified so that wealthier mothers don't have to resort to formula."

Breast milk is It. Some of us don't want to breastfeed, some can't, and some happily nurse wherever and whenever baby is hungry. But we all want the same thing -- the best for our babies. We all know that breast is best. Breastfed babies are smarter. Stats back this up. And so if a mom has money to shell out, why wouldn't she buy what's best for her baby? We buy the best carseats, the best crib mattresses, the most organic natural no-chemicals involved in the making of this onesie for our babies, why wouldn't we buy the best baby could drink? And if a mom is producing enough to feed other babies in addition to her own, she deserves compensation.

What I fear about the monetization of breast milk is moms not feeding their own babies breast milk in order for them to sell it to women who just don't want to breastfeed and have the money to buy it. It just seems wrong, as if we are messing with fate. Donating to preemies who need breast milk to thrive certainly is more philanthropic.

I keep thinking about the hours and hours attached to a breast pump. And the bags that need to be bought for proper storage. And the cleaning of all those parts after each pumping session. That's when I understand -- or rather feel -- women deserve to be paid for their time, their (I guess you can call it) services.

Perhaps it should be regulated in some way. The hospitals could pay women for their milk, but then give it to babies in need without charge. It is about health -- at least it should be. Health care. What about these companies who buy breast milk? Can we trust them? They are the middle man. Do we need them? Not all of us do. Some of us have a tribe we can count on, but not all of us are lucky to have another mom who we know is healthy and able to give us enough breast milk to feed our babies. I wish we were all blessed and able to produce enough milk for our babies and other people's babies. But we are not. Supply and demand.

What do you think of the business of selling breast milk?


Image via Daniel Lobo/Flickr

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