A Site to Buy and Sell Human Breast Milk

What should women do if they have extra expressed breast milk? One option is to donate the milk to a non-profit milk bank of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. If that is not possible, some women choose to take advantage of the MilkShare site for informal milk donation.

Image by Bartek Ambrozik

But what about making some money from the milk? Women have been trying to sell their breast milk on Craigslist and eBay. So it was bound to happen eventually. A site has been set up to buy and sell breast milk. Mothers can list their ads to sell their milk, and buyers — be they other mothers or men interested in the milk for medical reasons or personal enjoyment — can browse the ads or post want ads themselves.

What do you think of such a site? Should women be allowed to sell their milk? Should the sale of human milk be illegal or permitted and regulated by law? The sale of breast milk raises many ethical and legal questions:

~ Will the ability of a mother to sell her milk lead her to wean early (or not give her milk to her baby at all) in order to make money?
~ Will there be a disparity in the mothers who sell their milk? Will the underprivileged be driven to sell their milk, and the babies of the poor (the ones who arguably need the protection and nutrition of human milk the most) be deprived of milk?
~ Do we as society have an obligation to protect mothers and babies from exploitation? Is it exploitation?
~ What about mothers who have plenty of milk to both feed their babies and sell the milk? Should they be free to sell it without regulation?
~ Given that medications, illegal substances, and certain diseases can be transmitted by human milk, what is the responsibility of the buyer to certify the quality of the milk, and what is the responsibility of the buyer? Is it buyer beware, or could mothers be held responsible for selling milk that harms the buyer?
~ How does the donation or sale of human milk relate to the donation or sale of human blood, tissue or organs?
~ If the sale of breast milk should be permitted but regulated, should it be regulated on a state and/or federal level? California, New York, and Texas have laws the pertain to the collection, processing, distribution and use of human milk.
~ Why should a company such as Prolacta be allowed to profit from the sale of donated milk, but the mothers themselves not be allowed to profit?

I am not sure I know the answers to these questions, and I am interested in reading your comments. What do you think about the ethical and legal questions raised by the selling and buying of human breast milk?

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    • http://babyfingers.blogspot.com Jenny

      Yikes! That just doesn’t feel right to me. If I were unable to make milk for my baby, I’d only accept milk from a trusted friend or from a regulated source. What if someone watered down or diluted their breastmilk with formula in order to make more money? What if it wasn’t really breastmilk at all? How would anyone know? I think this is a bad idea for some of the same reasons selling organs is illegal. Plus, if I had extra milk I don’t think I’d want to sell it. It wouldn’t feel good to profit from someone else’s misfortune.

      However, I would definitely donate my milk if it were feasible for me to do so. (I am not great with the pump.) I have a friend who needed donor milk and received some from multiple donors she knew in the community, rather than through an agency. The moms heard she needed milk and offered it. I’d hate to see legislation against this sort of giving; that should be up to the mothers involved. What scares me is that if human milk suddenly became a hot commodity for which people would pay top dollar, some of these milk donors might curtail their giving. I believe donor milk should be affordable for those who need it. Babies from underprivileged families deserve breastmilk just as much as anyone, and it seems like this would threaten their ability to get it.

      Bottom line, I sort of wish nobody, not even companies, profited from mother’s milk. When money comes into play, things get corrupted.

    • http://www.azchiropracticandrehab.com April

      I agree with Jenny. Selling my breast milk would definitely not feel right. I would rather donate it than profit from it.

    • http://www.strocel.com Amber

      I don’t like the idea of buying and selling human milk, and I like it even less on the open market. You pointed out indirectly that buyers may not want the milk for their babies, but for themselves for a variety of reasons. The idea that someone could be buying my milk for ‘personal enjoyment’, and possibly not disclosing that, creeps me out. And, on the flip side, there are absolutely risks to accepting milk from a stranger. The risks aren’t huge, but the potential downside is significant. Given the thorny and complicated situation here, and given the fact that this is a bodily fluid, I would prefer to see it handled like, say, donor blood.

      Here in Canada, I don’t know what the situation is with human milk, but no one is paid to donate blood. It might have a negative effect on the blood supply, but this is one area where I think that altruism truly is the best motive. We need people to be honest and we don’t want them to compromise their own health or their babies’ health. So I would say no selling milk, whether it’s done privately or by a big corporation.

    • http://www.goodenoughmummy.typepad.com Dr Sarah

      I sure as hell wouldn’t want to sell my milk either. But I’m not comfortable with the idea of forbidding other women from selling theirs. I’m not certain that it would have a noticeable effect on the donor supply – I think that if someone is only passing their milk on for the money they’re not going to be donating for free anyway, and a woman who is donating for free out of altruism is unlikely to decide that she’ll stop doing something altruistic just so that she can make a profit. I think there are risks to the people who buy it, but I think that’s a case of buyer beware. As for exploitation, I think that if a woman is desperate enough for money to feel she needs to sell her breastmilk then barring her from taking that route to earning money in the name of helping her is probably not the answer. Leave her that option, and work to change the factors in society that are keeping her in that situation, so that she has other options available.

    • Eilat

      My understanding was that it IS illegal to sell breastmilk, because it is considered an “organ” and organ selling is illegal. Just like you cannot sell your kidney or your blood — you can only donate.

      I learned this when I was exploring donating milk 4 years ago with my son and Prolacta told me that they cannot by law compensate mothers for giving them milk, but they can cover the cost of testing and provide the pump, etc. I ended up donating through HMBNA anyway, but my understanding is that breastmilk is not legally sell-able.

    • http://www.thenewbornbaby.com/ Debbie

      I, for one, would not buy milk or juice of any kind on Craig’s list. Donate extra milk!

      Debbie

    • http://www.breastfeedingtruth.com Heather King

      Thanks for this post. I’m really interested the tricky relationship between donor milk and money and recently blogged about several aspects of milk donation. These range from why breast milk cannot be reproduced (making donor critical) to the whole Prolacta story to questions about the recent Haiti milk donation mix-up and, of course, the tricky subject of whether or not it’s a good idea to pay moms for breast milk.

      I have not thought as much about selling milk on ebay or craigslist, but I feel it would be unwise and unfeasible without a large organization to test the donor moms for breast milk transmittable diseases as well as drugs that can be passed into breast milk and probably also to pasteurize the milk (as HMBANA and Prolacta do). Maybe an organization like this will crop up someday.

      Although there are potential negatives to paid milk donation by a large organization, such as Prolacta, I also see potential benefits. Most moms who are currently breastfeeding might recoil at the idea of compensated milk donation, but it could be quite good for the public image of breast milk (so compromised by the food industry). Putting a monetary value on breast milk reach might send a strong message to moms who would not be part of the current crowd likely to breastfeed, and who have been convinced that expensive formula must be better.

      Heather King

    • http://MamanADroit.typepad.com Maman A Droit

      To me breastmilk seems different than an organ or blood because our bodies naturally produce it to be expelled and then be consumed by others. Although blood does replenish itself, you aren’t really supposed to need to replenish it. So from that end I don’t think there is anything to worry about. But I do think that selling it on the open market is a bad idea due to the risk of disease etc. I doubt any mom would purchase homemade, untested formula mix from craigslist-the potential for abuse is the same thing. I don’t think selling your breastmilk would be intrinsically immoral (although neglecting your own child to do so would be) but I think buying it from an unknown source would be incredibly irresponsible parenting.

    • http://www.vwmcclain.blogspot.com/ Valerie W. McClain

      Human milk is technically a tissue not an organ. Tissue donations are regulated in some states in the USA. Ethics of paying donors is dependent on which side of the fence you reside.
      There are similarities between the formation of the infant formula industry in the 70′s and the for-profit and not-for-profit milk banking industry. Part of the ideology in the 70′s when the infant formula industry arose, was that women could not safely make their own infant formula. The belief was that industry could make it safer. Reality is that when things go wrong in the manufacture of infant formula, many babies are injured or die. When a mom makes infant formula and does something wrong, it is usually only her baby that is injured or dies. Some might say that the safety issue is an illusion created by an industry seeking customers. Likewise we are witnessing the birth of the human milk industry. Monopolization and patenting of human milk components seems to be creating the ideology that private milk sharing and wet-nursing is dangerous. Reality seems to be getting lost by the needs of an industry in pursuit of customers.

    • Jill

      I agree with several people posting above that profiting from milk donation might make women donate for the wrong reasons and therefore compromise the health of their babies or the safety of the milk they supply. The same logic behind blood donation [which I did today to the Red Cross and felt good about :)] – those that resort to selling it could be motivated by other than altruistic reasons. That being said, I would absolutely turn to friends and other trusted sources for donated breast milk if I weren’t able to supply for my baby it myself before I would give formula.

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    • Stephanie

      I would totally sale my breastmilk to anyone that would want to buy it I feed my 2 month old son every 2-3 hours and I have WAY more milk than he EVER eats or comes close to eating I can express 4-6 ounces out of each breast every 2 hours so if I could find someone to buy it so it doesn’t just go to waste that would be awesome. I have tried everything to slow the production w/out stopping it because I still need to feed my son but nothing works. I am a very healthy women (no drugs, alcohol, misc. sexual partners etc.) I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to sale my milk. Like many other people have said why can men get money for their sperm and us women who endure more pain producing milk than they do semen can’t! doesn’t make sense does it.

      • grisel jimenez

        I would like to know if you find someone want to buy you mik, because i am in the same sitation like you latter milk.

    • Freidrich Hayek

      The idea that it is OK for Prolacta or a milk bank to sell human milk, but not pay the women who donate it, is absurd.

      Concerns about the “safety” of such milk are also absurd. No one thinks twice about the safety of infant formula (proven to be inferior to breast milk) nor of the safety of the gallon jugs of cow’s milk they buy every day.

      There is nothing wrong with donating for reasons other than “altruistic” reasons. It costs money to keep a freezer going, drive to milk banks, eat enough healthy food to produce healthy milk, and so forth. Given how many milk banks are in critical short supply, there would be more human milk available for babies who need it if the donors got paid.

    • Robert Durbin

      You can get a women to produce milk but it takes time and even more so if she has never given birth. If they do give birth and keep pumpping it from then on they can keep producing milk. The PETA doesn’t have everything right with there Ideas. The Cow thing is what we do and love the milk and meat. But they did stumble on to something that should work. I came a cross a few stories some real and some scify about Human breast milk. Well I came up with my own idea about this hole thing on Breast milk Farm. A building in several parts that can handle several 100 females at a time. In one part there is a health department that checks the women for any thing wrong and puts them on a healthy diet. They keep tabs on all to check there milk, health, and any thing elss that may be wrong. Then they go to another room to be pumped. They could read, watch TV, exercise, or any thing elss that they want as long as the pumps are securer to there breast. If they have kids there are other rooms for them, a daycare for who ever comes. If they have a baby there is always a supply of milk, “Breast milk promotes sensory and cognitive development, and protects the infant against infectious and chronic diseases. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea or pneumonia, and helps for a quicker recovery during illness”. The combined Super milk before and after testing would go to the daycare and to the next room that would bottle it and sent it to all the local stores an other Vader’s. The female that show up at this place would be taken care of in many ways and leave with some cash for there milk. Then once there milk starts flowing then they could do it any where with one of my portable breast pumps that you can wearer any where. Then just bring the milk to the building to be tested and put into the system. They would get some milk money for each drop off and new bottles to fill when they wish or can. This Idea benefits all females who wish to use it in many ways, It would boost the economy $$$, national resources, provide a new resources for all, boost health and well-being of mothers, it helps to space children, reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer, increases family, and can boost a lot of other things. Who ever reads this can reach me at rwdisland@yahoo.com

      • Shannon

        Do you know of a specific or the best route that I should go to sell my breastmilk online? What hospitals pay 45$ an ounce ? Thanks so much!!!

    • Char

      I agree with some regulations. But I don’t think it’s fair not to allow the sale of breast milk. Men get paid for sperm so why is it such a big taboo for women to be paid for their milk? I am interested in selling breast milk. My daughter is almost 6 yrs old and has been weened for quite some time so I am not “robbing peter to pay paul” so to speak. So in cases like mine my “baby” is not being denied anything. It would be a nice easy way to make some extra money. I would not be at all comfortable selling to anyone for any purpose without being checked out and tested. I would want documentation that my milk was completely safe for consumption before selling. I would not want to be liable or responsible for harming anyone. Sperm banks test and pay why can’t we have a money making option too?

    • Char

      Oh, couple more things, breast milk doesn’t make a whole other human being. It only supports the ones that already exist. Something to think about… And as far as being an organ, I don’t know how the government sees it but the way I see it is that it is NOT an organ. It’s FOOD. Ok its produced by the body. Cows produce their milk in their bodies. Nobody, cringes at drinking cows’ milk. And human organs are not meant to be consumed (btw I didn’t mean consumption in my last post lol). If breast milk is going to be considered an organ, then shouldn’t sperm be considered an organ?

    • Liz

      Would you choose to receive a blood transfusion from someone advertising and selling on their own? Assuming the answer is no, the same rule applies to breastmilk.