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Would You Buy Breastmilk from a Stranger Online?

If you could not breastfeed, would you feed your baby breast milk donated by an anonymous online mom instead of allowing it to drink formula from a bottle? According to Newsweek, a growing number of moms would answer that question with a resounding yes.

OK, let the hate mail begin, but let me be the first to say it: Giving your child breast milk from people you will never meet is absolutely bonkers. I’m all for breastfeeding, but not to the point where you are taking milk pumped by random people to feed your child.

A bit of history here: Formal milk banks have been with us for some time, but the demand for their services has exponentially in the past decade as the cry “breast is best” has grown ever louder. At these banks, moms with a surplus of breast milk can donate it to other women who are not producing breast milk for reasons ranging from premature birth to the fact they adopted their children. These milk exchanges test the donor moms for everything from HIV to hepatitis B, and, as an added safety precaution, pasteurize the milk before sending it on to the family of the baby in need.

All that caution, however, doesn’t come cheap. An ounce of milk from one of these officially licensed banks can set one back more than $3 an ounce, leaving them effectively open to only the wealthy or well-insured. As a result, an informal network of online donors and unregulated milk exchanges has surfaced, services where non-lactating moms are charged either minimal fees or nothing at all for the breast milk they need. On the other hand these arrangements don’t allow for donor vetting either, instead relying on donor honesty to ensure the safety of the gifted breast milk.

Yet Newsweek, while questioning the informal arrangements, ignore the larger argument: are breast milk banks even necessary? The article simply takes the breast is best argument as a given.  This, as much as all of us who have breastfed would like to claim otherwise, is not an open and shut case as au currant wisdom would have it.

More than one critic has come forward to point out giving your child formula is not tantamount of child abuse, and they will likely do just fine on Similac or some other commercial infant concoction.  As Amy Benfer pointed out in Salon, it’s quite possible that many of the current breast feeding studies supposedly demonstrating the incredible benefits of breastfeeding are really just picking up on the incredible benefits of having the upper middle class mother most likely to breastfeed. Joan Wolf, an assistant professor of women’s studies at Texas A&M University and author of the forthcoming book Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood, takes the argument a step further, and argues that the supposed upsides of breastfeeding are massively oversold and are really just another bit of propaganda in the latter day cult of the perfect mother.

When it comes to donated breast milk, I have to say I think Wolf has a point. Since when isn’t it good enough to simply adopt a child, or decide to give birth after losing a breast to a mastectomy? Now these women have to worry about the getting a hold of a steady supply of breast milk too? Please.

What do you think?

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Photo: Beukbeuk

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