Human milk is being bought, sold, and donated on an unprecedented scale. With demand comes fierce competition and potential risk.

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In an era as soon as the benefits of chest milk are far better understood and much more scientifically details than ever, need for that has developed a niche industry.Photo: Mitchell Feinberg

It began with a bleary-eyed Google search: "Sell chest milk." Desiree Espinoza had actually a 2-month-old infant girl yet was pumping out sufficient milk to feed triplets. Ziplock baggies full of the stuff to be crammed in she freezer, and unpaid bills overfilled her kitchen table. She wasn't certain there was a market for she overflow or whether selling it was also legal. A few clicks later, she found herself on a website called Only the Breast.

The site looks a lot favor craigslist, except instead that selling offered cars and like-new Ikea furniture, just the breast deals in human being breast milk. There space hundreds of articles from new mothers eager to turn their surplus into profits. Numerous kick off through a chirpy title ("Chubby infant milk machine!"), climate follow with a picture of their very own robust infant and also lush explanation ("rich, creamy breast milk!" "fresh and also fatty!"), make a primal source of nutrition sound choose a brand-new York cheesecake. The posts are in addition categorized to appeal to a selection of milk seekers, based on a baby's period (from 0 to 12 months), say, or one-of-a-kind dietary constraints (dairy- and gluten-free). There's also a type of "anything goes" section for ladies willing to offer to men. Part ship coolers that frozen milk pack in dry ice. Others transaction locally, conference in cafés come exchange cash for commodity. The questioning price on only the chest runs $1 come $2.50 an ounce. (A 6-month-old baby consumes about 30 ounces a day.)

Liquid Gold: The Booming sector for human being Breast Milk by Judy Dutton (52.5 MB .mp3)


Subscribe: glossesweb.com features PodcastIntrigued, Espinoza tapped out her sales pitch: "Mostly organic raised breast milk. I have actually over 500 oz saved and I need to get rid of it. Throughout the mainly I just eat organic." A couple of days later, she was in business, offering the milk in ~ $2 an oz to a couple of client in the Phoenix area wherein she lives, consisting of a mommy with a newborn and also a guy who claimed breast milk helped his immune disorder. "There's no way I might get a task with one infant, therefore this help pay for diapers and clothes," she says. In 3 months, the 19-year-old college student earned enough to purchase a new laptop and also the dress she wore to her wedding come the baby's 22-year-old father, a recent college grad. She to plan to proceed selling because that a year, and also if she deserve to pump a stable 30 ounces a day, she can take in around $20,000.

Only the breast represents just one side of the arising market in person milk. In one era when the services of breast milk are better understood and much more scientifically particular than ever, demand for it has produced a niche industry. As well as sites like only the Breast, that demand is gift met by a grasp of all-volunteer women's groups that aid organize totally free milk donations via Facebook and also their own websites. Two significant ones, person Milk 4 human being Babies and Eats top top Feets (a pat on Meals top top Wheels), connect thousands that women, facilitating the donation of life or home-pasteurized milk to new moms in need.


There's also a well-established brick-and-mortar network that so-called milk banks. These nonprofit operations collection milk from donors and process and pasteurize it come meet particular quality and also safety standards. The milk is sold mostly to hospitals and also parents of sick or premature infants at roughly $4 an ounce. A more recent player is Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit enterprise the operates somewhat favor a medicine company, v a massive plant in southerly California. Prolacta produces its own amplified breast-milk product, a syrupy fortifier particularly for hospitalized newborns, in ~ a expense of $135 every baby, per day. Through 58 hospital contracts and also an ambitious distribution strategy because that the next year, Prolacta envisions a multimillion-dollar possibility for that products.


Most body fluids, tissues, and organs—semen, blood, livers, kidneys—are highly regulated by government authorities. However not chest milk. It's considered a food, for this reason it's legal to swap, buy, or market it nearly everywhere in the US. This accounts, in part, for the widely differing quality and safety criter in the online sector for milk. For their part, Prolacta and nonprofit milk financial institutions have rigorous screening processes for potential donors, consisting of tests for drugs, hepatitis, and also HIV. However Only the Breast and also the volunteer sites, which see themselves more as communities than commodity markets, don't display screen donors or assume duty for the milk they assist disseminate.


Whatever the resource of the milk or its channel of distribution, the trend is clear: human milk is gift bought, sold, donated—and gratefully received—on an unprecedented scale. And as demand grows, the competition because that every ounce is getting much more fierce.

The all at once benefit of feeding babies chest milk rather of formula has actually been fine established. In 2007, the united state Department the Health and also Human solutions issued a report mirroring that babies who space formula-fed instead of breast-fed space at an enhanced risk for asthma, acute ear infections, diarrhea, and also SIDS. 1 The advantages of feeding chest milk to babies space touted by part to be lifelong, possibly lowering the odds of excessive weight and raising IQ through as much as 5 points.

Researchers have only recently started to identify the instrument underlying breast milk's an effective effects. Look in ~ it with a microscope and you have the right to see that breast milk is abuzz through white blood cells, pearly fat globules, and also fuzzy balls that protein. At greater magnification, you can make the end the millions of Y-shaped molecules that space an infant's primary defense against infection: antibodies. Created by the mother's immune mechanism in solution to the pathogens in her environment, these antibodies room passed along to the baby to fight off illness. Mothers' milk has other protective properties and potential uses as well. Sugars referred to as oligosaccharides, lengthy thought to have no function, due to the fact that infants can't digest them, are now recognized to adhere come a baby's intestinal lining, allowing great bacteria in while warding off harmful bugs, choose a discerning bouncer in ~ a i know good club. Fatty acids referred to as DHA and also AA serve as brain food, stimulating neurological development. One fatty acid-protein hybrid nicknamed Hamlet (Human Alpha-lactalbumin made Lethal to Tumor Cells) has been uncovered to kill 40 different types of cancer cell lines in the lab and is being researched as a treatment for patients. Breast milk additionally contains a organize of stem cells. While scientists don't recognize yet what they're doing there, researchers doubt they may have actually the capability to distinguish into disease-fighting agents and also could someday be harvest to treat an array of ailments, therefore sidestepping the ethical comes to of harvest stem cell from person embryos.


The multitasking magic of breast milk has actually proven difficult to replicate. J. Bruce German, a professor that food chemistry at UC Davis, has actually studied chest milk because that two decades with the target of mimicking details effects. "The attributes that make person milk therefore unusual are that it's personalized and also it's active," German says. "So practically by meaning there's nothing on the horizon the would fulfill those criteria."

While the scientific expertise of human being milk is tho evolving, the American Academy that Pediatrics reference is straightforward: Mothers should feed your babies nothing yet breast milk for the first six months and then continue nursing for at least another six. However the physical demands of breast-feeding and the time required to store up with it have the right to be difficult for brand-new moms. (Breast-feeding can take as much as four hours a day; a pumping session takes, ~ above average, 15 minutes and yields 6 ounces.) according to the Centers for condition Control and Prevention and also a report called the Ross mother Survey, breast-feeding at birth is increase from roughly 25 percent in the early on 1970s come 75 percent in 2007. However less than fifty percent of all mothers make it to the recommended six-month mark, and also just a 5th stick through at least some breast-feeding for whole year. Still, those moms that don't breast-feed want what's best for their babies, and also many are willing come do everything it takes to gain it—including buying it from strangers online.

The virtual purveyors that mothers' milk check out themselves together brokering an totally wholesome trade. "We love that our website has currently helped so many moms and babies, and also we hope us can proceed to attach them together for years to come," claims Chelly Snow, cofounder of just the Breast. She come up through the idea after offering birth in January 2009 and also reading write-ups online about the benefits of breast-feeding. She maintained spotting the same sort of posts in the comments section of this articles: "I require breast milk. Where carry out I gain it?" and "I have actually too much. What carry out I execute with it?" Both craigslist and eBay had long ago banned the sale of bodily fluids. Snow saw buyers and also sellers who weren't connecting, and the idea because that a website the filled the gap—and her financial institution account—was born.

Since she and her husband, Glenn, released the website a year and also a fifty percent ago, just the Breast has attracted approximately 3,000 members (posting is totally free but both sellers and buyers must register to make contact). The couple, who run the organization out of their Walnut Creek, California, home, arrangement to lug in revenue by selling ads. For now, though, they article their very own endorsements for such things as prenatal vitamins and also baby sign-language classes. They have actually yet to turn a profit, but their companies has already expanded, with recently launched sister website in the UK and also the europe Union.

Meanwhile, the donation-based milk-sharing sites—particularly Eats ~ above Feets, which attracts a many of whole Foods-shopping planet mamas—see what they execute as the extension of one age-old practice. Women have actually breast-fed one another's babies for millennia, they allude out, and Internet-enabled milk swapping is simply a 21st-century update. The FDA doesn't check out it in such benign terms. In November 2010, the firm issued a stern press release warning around the threats of feeding someone else's bodily fluids to your baby: "When human milk is derived directly from people or with the Internet, the donor is i can not qualify to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk. In addition, that is not likely that the human being milk has actually been collected, processed, tested, or save on computer in a means that reduces feasible safety dangers to the baby."


Despite the FDA's caution, there have been no reported situations of epidemic from chest milk obtained online. And those who use these sites to speak it's not really the government's place to action in. Also, by skirting the steep cost of screening and also processing, which FDA-endorsed banks must bear, females who sell their milk on these sites can charge a fairly low price. As a result, lock say, they can have a much greater influence on children's health and wellness than they would certainly if they donated to a milk bank.


The virtual outlets likewise funnel donated milk to women favor Kristen Conklin-Leveille, a 24-year-old indigenous Ballston Spa, brand-new York, who developed a staph infection shortly after providing birth, rendering she unable to breast-feed. She make the efforts four various kinds the formula, however her 2-month-old son had trouble digesting them. She do the efforts goat's milk, yet he refuse it. She looked right into buying indigenous a nonprofit milk bank, yet at $5 one ounce, it could have price $150 a day, or much more than $50,000 a year. Desperate, she post a plea because that milk donations on the Eats ~ above Feets message board and breast milk began trickling in. "A most women said me, 'I to be going to provide this come a milk bank,'" Conklin-Leveille says, "'but I'd rather give it to you.'"

Women might prefer to donate their milk to other moms 보다 to offer it come a milk bank, i beg your pardon will market it because that $4 one ounce. And also mothers seeking milk are happy to take those donations, especially since health insurance money doesn't cover breast milk. "Until we have national regulations where insurance providers pay because that donor milk across the board, we're going to proceed to have much more and much more of this informal sharing," claims Lois Arnold, program coordinator because that the national Commission top top Donor Milk Banking, a regimen of the American Breastfeeding Institute. No wonder milk financial institutions are struggling to keep their supply.

"By anyone's estimation, there's a milk shortage," states Kim Updegrove, executive director of the Mother's Milk bank at Austin. It's located inside a quiet office park between two obstetrical practices. (The thinking is the expectant moms will certainly eventually become donors.) but Updegrove and her colleagues space feeling pinched. This financial institution used to have 14,000 ounces in frozen warehouse for circulation to premature babies in hospitals and also to parents through sick babies at home. It currently has simply one-tenth of that amount.

Part the the trouble is the the bank's self-imposed screening requirements tend to put off busy, exhausted new mothers. Potential donors should submit to a verbal and also written questionnaire around their health history and current evidence that a postbirth blood test showing that lock don't have actually an infectious disease like HIV. Due to the fact that most of the milk from financial institutions goes to preemies, the must likewise be complimentary of over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements, including fenugreek (often take away to boost breast-milk production). The approval deserve to take several days, offering a mrs plenty the time to find much more immediate online recipients. And if OK'd, a woman need to make a minimum donation the 100 ounces, which additional eliminates mothers who have an ext modest offerings. Fifty percent of the women who market to donate execute not finish the process—some since they don't happen the screening tests, others since they select to share your milk an ext informally for less hassle.


Collecting the milk is simply the beginning of a an extensive process that additionally involves analyzing, purifying, and also standardizing the product. When a donation has been tested for microbes and found to be pure, a small sample is analyzed by a device called a MilkoScan FT 120. The looks choose an espresso maker and offers an interferometer to scan the milk. The result is a readout showing the ratio of protein, fats, lactose, and also calories, which deserve to vary indigenous 12 come 38 per ounce. To offer to hospitals, banks must provide milk with a specific, continuous balance the nutrients and also calories. To achieve that, the financial institutions use a modern technology called target pooling—blending donations with various nutrient profiles till the optimal caloric value (around 20 calories every ounce) is achieved. Finally, they pasteurize the milk v a special technique that heats it to around 144.5 levels Fahrenheit, minimizing the destruction of antitoxin while killing viruses and other pathogens.

Screening milk donors transforms up a surprising number of infectious agents—pathogens that could be passed on to a baby. A 2010 Stanford University examine examined data indigenous 1,091 females who applied to donate milk come a bank in san Jose, California. That revealed the 3.3 percent were rejected after their blood samples tested hopeful for at least one of 5 serious infections: syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and human T-cell lymphotropic virus. And if these pathogens space in a donor's blood, they have the right to be existing in the milk, too.

Critics warn that these same an illness agents are likely prevalent in milk that's available online. "Women are persuaded that chest milk is somehow various from blood and that over there aren't any risks in share it with another woman's baby," claims Updegrove, director of the milk bank in Austin. "But it's an exceptionally risky practice. Chest milk is a human body fluid. Would you consider cutting open a vein and also giving a straight transfusion?"

Given the very nice one of their security standards, financial institutions aren't in danger of closeup of the door tomorrow. However they're no equipped to accomplish the existing demand for human milk. And also it's around to get worse: Not just is the rise of virtual selling and sharing chipping far at their supply, but Prolacta, the massive manufacturer of strengthened milk products, has launched its own aggressive milk-soliciting campaign.


Inside a stainless steel tank the size of a Jacuzzi, milk spins in a high-speed centrifuge the screams prefer a jet engine. Meanwhile, two males in germ-free clean suits adjust various dials studding the tank's exterior. The operation—separating the constituent parts of 160 gallons of human milk—is an early step in what will shortly transform the liquid right into Prolact+4 H2MF, a thick syrup the packs the strength of 10 ounces of consistent milk right into a single ounce. Higher-strength execution are likewise available, including Prolact +6, +8, and also +10. On average, a 10-week it is provided of Prolacta Bioscience's product prices $10,500 every baby.

Prolacta is the first corporation to develop and also sell breast milk for profit. Located in Monrovia, California, its 15,000-square-foot facility houses millions the dollars' precious of pristine ultrafiltration units, temperature probes, and also an electrophoresis genetic analyzer. Established in 1999, the firm has 36 employees, $25 million in undertaking capital, and an widening roster that hospital clients across the country. 2 service is good, CEO Scott Elster says. He won't disclose exact figures yet says sales grew by 200 percent in 2010; that expects a similar jump this year.


Prolacta began out with a organization model the looked something favor a for-profit milk bank, marketing its donated supply to hospitals, where it was used mainly for infants in neonatal intensive treatment units. Numerous preemies were fed milk from their very own mothers instead, raised with a nutrient-rich child fortifier. But due to the fact that this fortifier was made indigenous cow's milk, it often caused adverse effects, such as allergic reaction or digestive problems. The researcher at Prolacta wondered whether an child fortifier from human being milk would cause fewer problems. The firm soon switched its emphasis to creating a human-derived milk fortifier, ran clinical trials, and by 2008 started marketing the product come hospitals.

The agency stays totally stocked v donated milk, Elster says, thanks to a team of paid mommy recruiters that cover the US. Alice Toth and Keri Pommerenk, pair sisters (and now mothers), operation Prolacta's Milkin' Mamas milk depot in Huntington Beach, California. The pair solicit donors through distributing flyers in ~ hospitals and doling out $20 gift certificate to miscellaneous baby-supply stores.

Prolacta does no compensate donors for fear that a financial catalyst will lure women desperate sufficient to work-related the system. "We need to make it altruistic," Elster says. "Otherwise, there'll be a picture of a mommy on the front page of The brand-new York time saying, 'I offered my milk for crack.'" (There's a history of such publicized scandals: when nonprofit milk banks an initial started, they paid donors. Yet that practice stopped in the at an early stage 20th century, ~ mothers began diluting your donations with cow's milk.)

With the appropriate recruiting tactics, Prolacta can much more than meet demand using volunteers, Elster says. "There's enough milk the end there," he says. "Our key hold-up is educating the market"—that is, persuading much more hospitals come buy Prolacta's superserum and also persuading much more mothers come donate.

But digital sellers are currently educated enough to check out this as a raw deal. To women prefer Desiree Espinoza, that is making a tidy profit, it doesn't make feeling to hand her business over to a milk financial institution or pharmaceutical company when her target market—mothers v hungry babies—can currently get what they require from she for lot cheaper. "I'm not embarrassed by what i do," Espinoza says. "This is my thing. I have actually an opportunity to help people, therefore why not?"

Judy Dutton (judy
judy-dutton.com) is the writer of science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot named Scorch ... And also What it Takes to victory (Hyperion).


Note 1. Correction appended <9:21 a.m. PDT/June 9, 2011>: The federal government report around formula-fed babies was released in 2007, not 2004. Prolacta was established in 1999, not 2005.

Note 2. Correction appended <9:21 a.m. PDT/June 9, 2011>: Prolacta was founded in 1999, not 2005.

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