Nursing “Mompreneurs” Profit from Surplus Milk
By Jacqueline Tourville
So many families are strapped for cash these days. But how far would you go to make a quick buck? For a growing number of breastfeeding moms who need or want to make some extra money, breast milk has–literally–become liquid gold. According to a recent investigative report in Wired magazine, the business of selling breast milk over the web is booming, thanks to at least one Craigslist-style site that connects moms with milk to spare to buyers from across the U.S.
Breast milk can go for as much as $2 an ounce, leading one mom to make a cool $1,000 off a stash of pumped milk sitting unused in her freezer.
This isn’t pocket change we’re talking about, either. Breast milk can go for as much as $2 an ounce, leading one mom interviewed for Wired to make a cool $1,000 off a 500-ounce stash of pumped milk sitting unused in her freezer. The mom described herself as “pumping enough for triplets”–too much for her 2-month baby to ever need.
Who’s buying? In this case, most of the milk went to a mother with a newborn who was unable to breastfeed and the rest went to a man who claimed breast milk helped his immune disorder. Breast milk buyers tend to be mainly moms and parents who want to provide their infants, especially premature babies, with human milk rather than baby formula, Wired reports. However, the most popular milk selling site also provides a sort of “anything goes” section for women willing to sell to men.
“There’s no way I could get a job with an infant, so this helps pay for diapers and clothes,” said the mom with the 500-ounce surplus, 19-year old Desiree Espinoza. Continuing to pump and sell, she soon earned enough to buy a new laptop and the dress she wore to her wedding to the baby’s 22-year-old father. According to Wired, Ms. Espinoza plans to continue selling for a year, and if she can pump a steady 30 ounces a day, she estimates her income from breast milk could be as high as $20,000.
Is Selling Breast Milk Legal?
Unlike the tight regulations surrounding transfer of body organs and human blood, breast milk is considered a food, so it is legal to donate, swap, buy, or sell human milk nearly everywhere in the US. Though some mainstream selling sites, including Ebay and Craigslist, have private rules banning users from selling breast milk, there are no actual laws that prohibit milk sharing or milk selling over the web.
There are also no health and safety regulations for the milk offered on these websites, something that the FDA is showing increasing concern over. Community-based milk selling and mom-to-mom sharing sites don’t screen donors or assume responsibility for the milk they help distribute. Contrast this to human milk banks, where mothers must undergo rigorous health screenings before a donation is even accepted. Milk is also pasteurized before distribution in order to eliminate any pathogens. (This stringent screening process also explains why donation-based milk banks charge as much as $4 an ounce for milk–double what moms pay by “buying direct” from lactating women.)
In November 2010, the FDA issued a stern press release warning about the risks of feeding someone else’s bodily fluids to your baby: “When human milk is obtained directly from individuals or through the Internet, the donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk. In addition, it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested, or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby.”
Despite the warning, advocates of internet-based milk selling point out that there have been no reported cases of infection from breast milk acquired online. By skirting the steep cost of screening and processing–and charging less–moms say their surplus breast milk is having a more positive and direct impact of children’s health than it would have had they donated to a milk bank.