Growing market of breast milk from mom to mom

Posted at 5:55 PM, Nov 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-16 22:33:16-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A lot of mothers choose to breastfeed their children, but not all women are able to produce milk.   More women are selling and buying breast milk online.

Some of it is donated, others charge for it.  While there are risks involved, the moms getting that milk argue it's the best nutrition for their children.

Janell Bryant is a local mother who posted online to ask for breast milk for her son Lucas.  Not only could she not produce breast milk, she says Lucas was allergic to formulas.

"For the first week of his life he did lose a lot of weight," Bryant said.

She needed help fast, especially since, according to doctors like Mariel Poortenga with  Mercy Health, breast milk is considered "key" for the first 6 months of a baby's life.

"Breast milk prepares the intestine for feeding," Dr. Poortenga said.

Dr. Poortenga says the list of benefits gets even longer, like preventing a baby from infections, obesity and coronary artery disease.

"We consider it one of the best forms of nutrition for an infant," she said.

Janell eventually sought out an alternative that her midwife suggested.

"The alternative was to look for a bosom buddy," she said.

It was a process she didn't take lightly. With hundreds of mothers posting ads on various websites, how could she possibly find the right one?

"You kind of screen and say 'Hey, what medication are you on? What's your lifestyle like?' And generally, the moms who donate will give you that information," Bryant said.

Dr. Poortenga is an advocate for breast feeding, but has concerns about buying and selling the milk online.

"The part that concerns me is whether or not people have enough information as they are making these choices," she said.

Those are choices that donating mother Tabitha Gady is well aware of.

"I donated like 19 gallons over the past year," Gady said.

Gady plans on feeding her son Enoch until he is two, and figured she would help some others along the way.

"In the beginning I would seek out babies," Gady said.  "You know, moms would list their babies who are in need and I would seek out premature babies or sick babies."

The internet is filled with mothers who are donating or selling their milk.  Some moms sell 300 ounces for upwards of $75.   Other women, like Gady, pump it for free.

Dr. Poortenga says she breastfed all four of her children.  While she supports the practice, and even though Mercy Health imports screened breast milk to feed premature babies, she says there are always risks involved.

"I like to draw on an analogy to the really compassionate perspective of a patient, for example, that wants their family member to donate blood for a child that needs a blood transfusion.  It's a very similar parallel.  It's such a loving gesture to want to do that, however, when a person asks you to give your blood to someone and you may have activities or behaviors that are somewhat concerning."

So, how could Janell be sure that her son was safe?

"I figure whatever my son is going to eat I am going to try eating too, so personally I tried the breast milk.  You can tell by the taste if it's watered down.  You can also tell by looking at it, the consistency and what changes."

The online market of breast milk never let Lucas down.  He's now gorwn strong with now more allergic reactions or sickness from formula.  Janell says he's proof it worked for them.

It's not legal to sell breast milk to one another or in stores, but there is no way to screen it regularly.  As far as the breast milk at Mercy Health, that's not for sale and is only for their patients, and is worth close to $14 per ounce.