Got Milk?

by Taylor Robinson, TPP High School Writing Contest Winner

Breast milk is most commonly used to provide nursing infants with nutrients, and it helps protect them against future health problems. If a mother cannot feed her child, she has the option to buy breast milk from a safe non-profit company, such as the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. Otherwise, mothers can use formula, although it doesn’t provide the benefit of immune protection. In this century, breast milk is not only purchased by nursing mothers, but also by regular adults as well. The breast milk industry is so popular that companies like Prolacta Bioscience, a company that sells and collects breast milk, has raised more than $46 million from investors who believe that the future lies within a mother’s milk. 

The people who buy breast milk are most likely interested in the health benefits. According to Discover magazinebreast milk induces the body to remove cancer cells. Additionally, some men are using breast milk in their pre-workout drinks, as they believe that it will boost their energy and increase their muscle growth. Although the benefits of breast milk have been studied in newborns, the advantages of consuming it as an adult are still unclear.  

The suppliers of breast milk make a pretty decent profit. For example, Desiree Espinoza sold her breast milk on an online consumer base called Only the Breastand she made two dollars per ounce. She expected that if she pumped thirty ounces a day she could make $20,000. The industry as a whole has also continued to flourish because there are no laws prohibiting buying and selling of breast milk. Wire magazine notes that the government doesn’t regulate the donation of breast milk because it cannot be classified as blood, semen or organs. Instead, breast milk is categorized under food, so it is legal to buy or sell anywhere in the United States.  

The popularity of online breast milk has raised very interesting debates regarding the health risks and the questionable morality of big time suppliers. A new study from Pediatrics suggests that human milk purchased online is more likely to be contaminated with high levels of staphylococcus and is potentially life threatening to newborns. In this study, researchers purchased 101 unpasteurized samples from one of the most popular milk sharing websites in the U.S. and compared them to 20 unpasteurized samples provided by a milk bank. The researchers found that 74 percent of the samples purchased online would have failed the breastfeeding criteria set forth by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. In addition, 64 percent of the Internet samples also tested positive for staphylococcus and three were infected with salmonella.   

Dr. Sarah Keim, researcher with the Center for Biobehavioral Health at Nationwide Children's Hospital, seems to think that these results are expected. "It's important to point out that it's totally normal for breast milk to have bacteria in it, Keim said. Nevertheless, she goes on to state that milk purchased on the Internet can pose more of a risk to babies who are preterm or who have existing medical issues. Additionally, Keim believes that there are no guarantees that healthy full-term babies will escape the problems. Because of the information regarding potentially harmful bacteria in breast milk, questions are being raised about setting restrictions on the distribution of milk.  

Another intense debate surrounds the topic of the price of breast milk. People against payment believe that breast milk “farming” will result in women using their milk for money instead of nourishing their children. They also believe that more people will try to maximize their profits unsafely and hide the mother’s health choices, serious health issues and potentially incubating common virusesSupporters of the payment believe that it will provide another alternative for mothers. The milk from non-profit banks usually shows preference for kids with medical issues, so the Internet milk would give mothers with healthy babies another outlet. 

The increased production of online breast milk has made it into what would be called “liquid gold.” Women’s breast milk is so popular that people are starting to use it as a way to generate a quick profit. As people turn their backs on non-profit organizations, profitable breast milk companies are making their way to the top. In the next few years, Internet milk may even be one of the most sought after item in online shopping circles!