On The Internet, Breast Milk A Free-Market Answer To Oversupply And Demand, For Moms And Men
A growing number of Arkansas moms who can't breastfeed are finding milk donors in online communities. Some are turning to online classifieds, where not all of the buyers are new moms.
In a Chick-fil-A parking lot in Maumelle, 30-year-old Mary Catherine Fortier hands Glenda Nielsen, 27, more than $500 for about 1,500 ounces of Nielsen's breast milk.
It's frozen, in little single-serving breast pump bags all thrown into bigger bags like Halloween candy.
"We kinda meet up like this every two months or so, and we exchange," Nielsen says.
Fortier cannot breastfeed her daughter, Camille, but she's fortunate to have a huge overproducer in Nielsen — one who can meet all of her needs, most any time she needs it.
"It fills up a small deep freezer," Nielsen says of her milk volume, "and I can produce that much within, I wanna say, two-and-a-half weeks, let's say. Oh yeah!"
But Nielsen charges money for this, a fact would disqualify her from online milk sharing communities, like the Arkansas Human Milk 4 Human Babies or Eats on Feets group pages on Facebook.
"I can donate. I can get some money for it as well. It's a time-consuming thing to try to pump every three hours, then clean and sterilize … all day every day," Nielsen says.
"I'm all on board on this," Fortier says. "I've been through the pumping … it is very time-consuming. When she originally told me 50 cents … the last woman I had to pay was over a dollar, and that was, ugh!"
SUPPLY AND DEMAND AND COMPENSATION
Fayetteville mom Jerrika Longueville complains that, on milk sharing group pages on Facebook, often there's a swarm of mothers desperate for milk donations while only a few have a supply — and an inclination — to give.
But jump over to retail sites, and it’s an entirely different scene.
"I had a donor, she donated me free and clear and gave to me a lot of milk, but she said she sells on the side, and most of who contact her are bodybuilders and weird fetishists."
You can find human milk for sale at Craigslist and eBay and other user-stocked retail sites. The members-only Benton Bryant Swap Shop group page on Facebook has featured posts from women selling breast milk, and it drew the attention of the Arkansas Department of Health earlier this year.
Chief epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow, in an email to another staff member, said posts selling milk must be pulled — "this is not something that can be sold."
But over on OnlyTheBreast.com, milking mothers are calling out like job applicants.
"So Much Sweet and Creamy Milk!"
"Willing to sell to men!"
"Clean, healthy liquid gold from momma with graduate degree!"
One seller is Kristy Browning of Gravel Ridge, whose daughter Aria Anthony, was born in December.
"I mention that I'm a personal trainer, eat healthy and exercise. Don't smoke, drink, any kind of drugs. No protein shakes right now."
On the site, she's FitMama1215.
"I also like to post a picture of [my daughter], just so they can see, because she's strictly on breast milk and growing rapidly."
Browning sells milk for $1.50/ounce. She says she wants the milk to go to a baby or someone whose poor health begs for it.
"Because there are some people who are kind of, they just want to drink it. And I would want it to feed a baby or someone who was using it for medical reasons."
But asked if she would sell to anyone willing to pay $5 an ounce, she sighs, "Whew! I'd have to think about it because that's quite a bit."
There's a user from Fayetteville on OnlyTheBreast.com seeking breast milk for his health. According to his pitch, he's been drinking human milk for a year and says he's had only two colds. He's willing to go as high as $2.50 an ounce. His handle is SuaveStud.
MONEY MAKES DONORS DIFFERENT
In 2015, a team of researchers at The Ohio State University made 102 online purchases of human milk and screened their DNA profiles. In 10 of them, they discovered bovine DNA at levels consistent with an admixture of at least 10 percent cows' milk.
"When you have someone motivated by getting paid, it might not be the same product you get," says Amy Vickers, director of the Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas, a nonprofit that takes in milk donations and distributes it to hospitals, including many in Arkansas. It pasteurizes every ounce of milk it collects, and it only accepts donated milk, even though it turns around and sells it for roughly $3.50 an ounce.
"That's what we saw in the blood industry. It is a different risk pool when you pay people for blood than when blood donors just donate and don't sell their blood."
Kristy Browning says along with selling she donates, too, and if pressed about milk sales, she'll say that donation-only is, intuitively, a strong hedge against fraud.
"You know, when you buying it from someone you don't know, you don't know if they're taking their prenatals ... [if] they doing drugs, they drink. And they can say they don't, but sometimes people lie, especially when they're trying to get money.”
THE GOLDEN RULE
Back at the Chick-fil-A, Mary Catherine Fortier and Glenda Nielsen wrap up.
"We joked, my mother and I, that if a police officer stopped us. I'm sitting here counting money. Does he think there's a drug deal going down? No sir, it's a milk deal!"
Nielsen says Fortier, or any mother she might deal with, has nothing to worry about with her.
"I tell people, if it were my child, I would not want someone to do that to me," she said, referring to sellers misrepresenting the quality of their breast milk.
"I'm all about do unto others as you would have them do to you. I don't understand how people could do that."
This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.