The benefits of breast milk over formula are well supported by research and The Office of the Surgeon General.
Some mothers, however, are unable to produce milk for their children and that's why they look for breast milk from other sources.
We discovered human breast milk is being sold all over the United States, and it's become big business for the sellers and the moms who put theirs on the market.
Instead of "pumping and dumping" everyday, some mothers create a rainy day stockpile of breast milk and store their surplus in freezers at home.
For thousands of moms across the country, gallons and gallons of good milk is earning them hundreds of dollars online.
Human breast milk is often referred to as "liquid gold" and it can be a lifesaver for newborns.
Susan Evans is the Director of the WakeMed Mothers' Milk Bank in Raleigh, North Carolina.
"Premature babies' lives are at stake," Evans says.
Some women are unable to produce milk if their pregnancy occurs too early and if their body is not ready to nurse.
For many moms who have no problem producing an adequate supply of milk for their infant, an extra stash of breast milk can also net a considerable amount of cash.
Megan Bowlby lives in Charlotte, NC, and she recently gave birth to her first child.
"There's probably thousands of dollars of milk in that freezer," Bowlby said.
Where there's a will, there's a www.com way.
Tubes of Grade A "Baby Bowlby" can sell for $1 to $2 per ounce on sites such as www.onlythebreast.com. About 4,000 moms across the country have created public ads to sell their surplus on this web site.
Most moms have over a 1,000 ounces of milk available. That's about $4 million worth of milk and just on this particular web site alone.
Critics say all this money can come with a high cost to a mom's conscience and endanger a baby's health.
"It's a dangerous road," said Katherine Lauer with La Leche League of South Charlotte (NC). "It makes me think of black markets. Black markets for body parts."
Unlike body parts, breast milk is a body "product" and its sale is unregulated online.
The risks, however, are real. Like any body fluid, human breast milk can carry and transmit viruses like HIV, Hepatitis, and even medications.
There is a safer alternative like buying milk from a non-profit milk bank.
"We wouldn't be here without moms who wanted to help babies without making a profit," Evans says referring to the WakeMed Mothers' Milk Bank.
The milk they offer, however, isn't free to moms in need. The non-profits say they have to cover their operating costs, too.
Donated milk costs $4 per ounce and $5 per ounce if you need it shipped. This can add up to as much as $175 per day to feed a baby.
It's the high price to pay for guaranteed purity.
Pasteurization is a process moms can't be sure of when they buy from sites where the push is for payment.
Non-profit milk banks guarantee they conduct health and lab tests on donors, sterilize the milk, store it at the proper temperature, and discard anything potentially peppered with prescription drugs or disease.
One research study of over 1,000 milk donor applicants in California found 3.3 percent of donors were rejected for having syphilis, HIV, or Hepatitis. It may sound like a small percentage, but it's the big risk parents take when they buy from an unscreened stranger.
As for Bowlby, medication prevented her from being able to donate her milk and she's decided her freezer stash is not up for sale.
"I guess I wasn't ready to market my milk," Bowlby said.
Selling breast milk is like selling any product. Your supply has to stand out off the charts.
Some online sellers use words like "creamy," "organic," "dairy, spices and aspartame free" to describe their milk.
"It reminded me of a dating site, where you were trying to make yourself sound appealing," Bowlby says.
Without widespread rules and regulations, all moms should weigh the risks versus rewards of buying or selling breast milk online.
•Three out of four mothers in the U.S. start out breastfeeding. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card)
•At the end of six months, breastfeeding rates drop to 43 percent, and only 13 percent of babies are exclusively breast fed.
•Among African-American babies, the rates are significantly lower: 58 percent start out breastfeeding, and 28 percent breastfeed at six months with 8 percent exclusively breast fed at six months.
*The FDA warns against feeding your baby a stranger's bodily fluids without screening. Click to read report.
•Breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia. Click to read US Surgeon General's report.
•Breast-fed babies are less likely to develop asthma.
•Children who are breast fed for six months are less likely to become obese.
•Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
*Most milk donated to a bank goes to preemie babies. (Source: WakeMed Mothers' Milk Bank)
*Breast-fed babies are at a lower risk of developing Necrotizing Enterorcolitis (NEC) which is death of the gastrointestinal tissue.
*Formula lacks important growth hormones and may contain food coloring and emulsifiers.
*Nationwide, the demand from hospitals for breast milk is increasing.
*Some insurance plans do cover breast milk purchases if it is necessary by prescription.
*The milk bank covers the cost of lab and blood tests, and shipping.
*At WakeMed Mothers' Milk Bank, you need at least 200 ounces to donate (150 ounces if you are local).
*All milk must be stored in breast milk storage bags or plastic containers provided by the hospital.
*You must wait 12 hours to pump after consuming alcohol.
*You cannot smoke.
*Blood work must be done at the mother's nearest Lab Corp.
*Mothers can make a one-time donation, or donate for the first 12 months of their baby's life.
*A 2010 Stanford University study of 1,091 women who applied to donate milk to a bank in San Jose, California, found 3.3 percent were rejected after their blood samples tested positive for at least one of five serious infections: syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and human T-cell lymphotropic virus. Sometimes, the mothers are simply not aware of the infection. That risk is also presented when buying online.
*Currently, www.onlythebreast.com has more than 6,000 community members and 4,000 active postings/ads. According to the site, some mothers are screened and an instructional video is offered to show how the milk is pasteurize. Mothers are able to communicate via the site.
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