Wet nurses, women who breastfed others’ children for pay, have a venerable history, only going out of style when artificial infant formulas became widely available. Mothers who can’t nurse, but want their babies to have the nutritional and immune benefits of human milk now have more options than ever. These range from informal online networks of “raw” milk donors to Prolacta, a company that takes breast milk donations and sells an ultra-processed milk product for premature infants that costs thousands of dollars per baby per week.
The June issue of Wired looks at the milk market, and how the stringent rules of milk banks are leading women to swap their own milk without safeguards–for cash. There’s actually a human milk donation shortage. Screened and pasteurized milk from a bank costs about $4-5 per ounce, while milk traded informally can cost less than a dollar per ounce. That price doesn’t include the overnight shipping and dry ice required when you’re not dealing with a local source.
Human milk is one bodily fluid that is, to date, pretty unregulated, since it’s also food. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for its part, considers this a Very Bad Idea and only recommends that families obtain processed milk from established milk banks that screen donors.
If you are considering feeding a baby with human milk from a source other than the baby’s mother, you should know that there are possible health and safety risks for the baby. Risks for the baby include exposure to infectious diseases, including HIV, to chemical contaminants, such as some illegal drugs, and to a limited number of prescription drugs that might be in the human milk, if the donor has not been adequately screened. In addition, if human milk is not handled and stored properly, it could, like any type of milk, become contaminated and unsafe to drink.
Would you swap dairy with strangers over the Internet, or sell your spare milk for cash?
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