Women all over the country buy and sell breast milk, but may not realize the inherent risks of doing so.
Any doctor will tell you that breastfeeding is the preferred method of infant feeding. However, some women are unable to produce enough for their babies and are forced to look elsewhere.
“There are roughly 4 to 5 percent of women worldwide that cannot physically make enough milk for their babies,” said Becky Lyons, one of five lactation specialists at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Mandy Taylor, a mother of three living in Dawsonville, chose to donate her milk. She’s part of a Facebook group called Human Milk 4 Human Babies and had seen stories of adoptive parents who needed breast milk for their children who may be allergic to formula.
“Some kids have an intolerance to milk, or eggs, or medications, so you have to disclose whether or not you drink caffeine. Just what your diet is,” Taylor said.
A friend of Taylor’s had previously donated to the person who received Taylor’s donation and she was also a part of the Facebook group.
She added that she would donate again in the future if she found someone who needed it, and wouldn’t consider selling it.
Also, the costs associated with having a child may force some women to sell their extra milk.
Casual milk sharing usually occurs when new mothers leave the hospital and are faced with
purchasing the milk themselves at roughly $5 an ounce.
“They have to pay out-of-pocket, which is astronomical,” Lyons said.
Some mothers choose to look online for cheaper options. Websites like Onlythebreast.com have popped up for women who want to sell or buy breast milk. However, these websites can’t guarantee that the milk sent from one place to another is always safe.
That’s where reputable organizations like Human Milk Banking Association of North America come in. HMBANA screen the donors, test their blood and make sure the milk is pasteurized.
“There’s a potential risk — it’s a bodily fluid — of HIV or hepatitis. It would be extremely rare because those mothers are screened,” said Lyons.
Price varies from one milk bank to another, and it usually depends on the hospital’s overhead costs, said Suzanne Walling, a spokesperson for HMBANA.
“Our milk is dispensed to hospitalized babies. A lot of time when the mothers have pre-term babies, the babies have issues latching on. Human milk feeding has been proven to be very beneficial,” said Walling.
“The priority for us is to make sure the preterm and sick babies are given milk first.”
HMBANA works with hospitals to help ensure that babies who are uninsured are given what they need as well.
Northeast Georgia Medical Center uses formula, said Lyons.
“A lot of our milk banks have charity programs for babies who are uninsured,” Walling said.
There are currently two laws in place that deal with breastfeeding. One of them, Ga. Code 31-1-9, states that breastfeeding is natural and should be allowed in any location where the mother and child are already allowed to be.
The second law concerns an unpaid daily break that mothers are given in order to express breast milk for her baby. Employers should provide a private location close to where the mother works, but the employer is not required to give this break if doing so would disrupt the workplace operations.