An Open Market for Breast Milk

Cheryl Lock
Posted

Selling Breast MilkSweet, creamy breast milk. 

Bargain $1/oz. organic, vegetarian, low dairy breast milk. 

The best fresh or frozen momma milk around.

These are actual ads, posted by real-life moms, that we found on Only The Breast, a community for moms to buy, sell and donate natural breast milk.

Not gonna lie—describing breast milk as organic or vegetarian doesn’t exactly come second nature to us, and something about the whole thing felt a little eww when we first saw it.

All the same, we reminded ourselves that there’s a long history of wet nurses around the world, including right here in America (and they’re actually making a comeback). Plus, studies have shown that breast milk is the most complete form of nutrition for infants—but it’s still a luxury. In places like Africa, most babies don’t have access to it, and for moms who have trouble feeding their kids their own breast milk, this could provide a valid back-up plan.

So, is this new mom phenomenon really as strange as it seems at first glance?

A Trend Spawned by the Recession?

The number of moms who are more than happy to sell their surplus breast milk is growing. Case in point: Only The Breast, in operation for 20 months now, has over 6,000 community members. And it’s not the only site vying for customers: MilkShare and Eats on Feets are growing in popularity as well. When Eats on Feets was founded in 2010, it took only a few weeks for it to grow into a collection of 98 localized groups spanning all 50 U.S. states and 22 countries.

And the economy might be one key reason why: “Moms with babies in need want an easy way to buy breast milk at a competitive price, and many moms selling milk need the extra income so they can stay at home,” says Chelly Snow, co-founder of Only The Breast.

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Buyers are also getting a bargain: Most moms sell their milk on these sites for around $1 to $2 per oz., compared to the going rate of $3 to $5 per oz. from standard milk banks. Besides, most FDA-approved milk banks give priority to premature and ill babies, making it hard for other families to get their hands on milk in the first place—and, in addition, donors are unpaid.

The net result? Selling breast milk online is a boon for moms who may be taking unpaid maternity leave. “The current recession has a huge impact on mothers and their ability to make ends meet,” says Snow, “so the opportunity to sell breast milk is putting much-needed dollars into their already slim budgets.”

How It Works

Moms who sell on sites like these post ads for their “goods.” They are encouraged to promote their own health in the ads, as well as the health of their babies. Once a connection is made between the seller and a buyer, moms freeze their breast milk in Ziploc bags that they then place in Styrofoam coolers packed with dry ice to ship.

No joke: The coolers have to be labeled as “Human Milk” (Fed Ex requires labeling on all liquid samples) before they’re shipped, usually for overnight delivery.

The Takeaway

Does selling milk sound like something you’d consider? If so, here’s what you need to know.

For Buyers

If you can afford it and are eligible for it, we always recommend purchasing breast milk for your baby from an FDA-approved milk bank. That way, you can be sure the milk has been properly sterilized and screened for disease. If you do decide to risk buying milk from one of these sites because it’s cheaper, remember to always ask for references from customers who have previously purchased from the mom and stop by to get to know the mom in person before purchasing if you can find one who’s selling locally.

For Sellers

It’s as easy as posting an ad on a site. You don’t necessarily need to sell your excess milk for profit, either. If you’ve got extra supply and you’d just like to help those in need, you can always donate your milk for free on these sites, as well.

While the FDA and donation sites like the three mentioned here do not currently provide ways for moms in America to donate breast milk outside of the U.S. and Canada, International Breast Milk Project does offer a way to donate to children all around the world. This includes Africa and Haiti. An estimated 1.4 million children were orphaned due to HIV/Aids in South Africa in 2007 alone, and one in three suffers from severe malnutrition. In Haiti, the 2010 earthquake orphaned tens of thousands of children in an already impoverished country.

No matter how you feel about milk-sharing sites, one thing we can all agree on is that getting milk to in-need babies is a noble cause.

We’ll drink to that.

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  • Kate

    As a new mom, who made a recent milk donation to a friend, I was super pumped (ha!) to see this article. I continue to love LVest and the addition of the mom version is so welcomed. 

  • Anonymous

    I pumped and donated my extra milk twice, using Eats on Feets. It was so nice to see other women trying to do what was best for their babies. I would only donate and never use it as a money making operation, and if I ever needed milk I would only take from those donating, so there is no outside incentive for the sell. It scares me to think what these women might be needing the money for…

  • Simmi Taylor

    I donated all extra breast milk we had to the north american milk bank. The best feeling ever was to give something so lovely, so pure, to someone who was in need.