Breast milk is known as liquid gold for good reason -- because it costs so many mothers valuable time, effort, energy, and literal blood, sweat, and tears and because it nourishes so many babies in ways that science is still uncovering. (And notice we said "some" babies, because breast milk isn't always the best choice for some babies and families!)
But what about the actual cost of breast milk? Can you put a price on that liquid gold? If you've ever been curious about the laws or rules and regulations about selling or buying breast milk, here's what you need to know.
Is Selling Breast Milk Online Illegal?
It's a gray area, but buying or selling breast milk online is not illegal. Technically, since there are no laws specifically banning the sale or purchase of breast milk, it can be done legally. However, certain sites, such as Craigslist and Etsy, have their own restrictions against selling any human products, including breast milk.
If You Want to Sell Your Breast Milk
There are a lot of reasons why you may want to pass your breast milk along to another family or mother in need. Maybe you have a surplus and are looking to sell or donate your extra breast milk; maybe you're curious if you could help another family while also helping your own with some financial support; or maybe you're no longer in need of your own breast milk and would like to be able to have it go to good use.
In a situation where you're looking to have your breast milk go to another family, you generally have three choices:
1) You can donate your milk through an official organization, such as the Human Milk Banking Association. Going through the official organization means that they will help guide you through the process and direct to you the closest registered milk bank near you so that you can get screened, trained on how to properly collect and store your breast milk, and follow all of the proper protocols. An official organization, like the HMBA, will then pasteurize your milk so decrease any chance of disease transmission or contamination for the donor.
2) You can sell your milk privately. If you're looking to sell your own breast milk, your best bet will be to do through private sales. Even as recently as a few years ago, it was becoming more popular for mothers to sell their milk to a milk bank, but one of the most popular options, called Mothers Milk Cooperative, is no longer operating. The milk banks were a great option because women were screened and the milk was tested and pasteurized, so buyers could get safe, clean milk and the moms supplying could get paid, but with limited milk banks, many moms now turn to private online sales.
One such site, Only the Breast, advertises itself as a “breast milk classifieds” and lets users either buy or sell milk. Just be sure to know what you are comfortable with when selling on a site like that, because some sites allow breast milk sales to men who do not have babies.
3) You can donate your milk privately. Again, because human breast milk is so strictly regulated, some mothers choose to donate their milk privately to bypass all of the different rules and restrictions. Many moms who choose this option will do so locally, in their communities, or through a private milk-sharing network.
How Much Does it Cost?
The cost of buying or selling breast milk varies, but in general, you can expect to pay no more than $1/ounce of breast milk. Any more than that and you’re more likely to veer out of the territory of honest moms looking for milk for their babies.
If You Want to Buy Breast Milk
Using a private milk is a wonderful option for babies who need breast milk because the bank will do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to making sure the milk is safe; they have a strict application process, they screen all donors, and they pasteurize the milk to ensure it as healthy as possible before being given to a family.
However, because it is so much work to do all of that and because there are so many babies who could benefit from breast milk, there is a huge shortage of milk in milk banks. The milk that is there is generally given first to premature babies who are in desperate need of breast milk. For some preemie babies, breast milk can make a crucial difference in their health outcomes, so milk banks make it a priority to get the sickest babies the best milk. That means that it can be more difficult to get milk from an official milk bank if your baby is not critically ill or premature, which is why some moms may turn to milk sharing sites or even private donors in their community or local networks.
You should know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend feeding babies milk acquired online or from an unscreened donor. The AAP cited a study that found that breast milk from private milk-sharing sites or private donor transaction had higher rates of potentially harmful bacteria than milk from regulated milk banks.
What to Watch For
The #1 thing you need to be on the lookout for when buying and selling breast milk is, of course, safety. Since there are no “official” guidelines or regulations for breast milk sales, it’s up to you, as the individual buying or selling, to be diligent about doing your research and vetting backgrounds whenever possible.
If you’re selling, you will want to follow all of the protocols you can about pumping, storing, and shipping your breast milk safely. If you’re buying breast milk, you’ll want to not only make sure the person you are buying from can be trusted, but that they are using clean techniques, have no diseases, and you’ll still want to inspect all milk before giving it to your baby.