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Inside The Black Market of Breast Milk Donation

Photograph by Getty Images

If you're a mom who desperately wants to breastfeed, but is unable to for various reasons, there are entire communities devoted to buying, sharing, and selling human breast milk. The problem is the rules and regulations about those sites can be a little, well... sticky. And for some milk-producing mamas, they're also a way to make some extra money. But at what cost exactly?

While there are some official milk banks in the U.S., those are primarily reserved for premature infants or infants who are desperately ill and need breast milk for their best chances at survival. Most moms aren't exactly going to want to take milk from a baby in need, so many turn to friends, family, or in some cases, virtual strangers to acquire breast milk for their babies.

One of the most popular breast milk sharing sites is called Only The Breast and I have to say, while I support breastfeeding 100 percent, some of the ads are little strange to see:

"'Mama Cow' with 900 oz. of breastmilk for $0.75/oz. Free Shipping from Experienced Seller in Central Florida," reads one.

"Sweet and yummy milk," reads another with a rather seductive picture of a young woman with her breasts exposed and mouth open.

"Vitamin-Rich Breastmilk from a Health Mom," declares yet another ad.

RELATED: Would You Let Your Friend Breastfeed Your Baby?

The page operates like a milk farm and has an overwhelming amount of "Men seeking breastmilk" on it which is really quite disturbing. The "men buying breast milk" category of the site actually had the most activity, with 200 posts from either men looking to purchase breast milk or women advertising to men who want to buy breast milk.

A user called "guy_in_pdx" posted that he was looking for someone with "an open mind" to supply with "fresh, never been frozen milk," preferably on a regular, weekly basis. "Your comfort level with the entire process will be a top priority," he assures. "Email me with ANY questions. Thank you for your consideration :)"

Um, what?

The truth is there's money to be made in selling breast milk and for some moms...

But to some moms, selling breast milk is their only way to make money—and men are willing to pay top dollar. Some men reportedly use the breast milk for its health benefits, some as a form of super protein to help them build more muscle and some are just direct with what they want, like the 65-year-old retired male who posted that he just "wanted to breast feed." His ad, shockingly enough, has been viewed over 1,800 times.

The website does state clearly that no pictures or adult wet nursing requests will be tolerated, so it's probably only a matter of time before that particular ad gets removed, but still, the fact that a site like this exists points to the interesting question if women are being exploited through a market that is highly unregulated and obviously very much in demand.

The truth is there's money to be made in selling breast milk and for some moms, it may be one of the only ways for them to contribute financially to their family, while also staying home. We put such a value on moms staying home with their babies and breastfeeding, two things which become full-time commitments. So it only makes sense that an industry would pop up around breast milk.

So how much money can a mom make from selling breast milk online? Well, it depends. The price for purchasing the breast milk ranges from under $1 to $2 per ounce. Some moms on the site offer breast milk that has already been pumped, available in bulk, while others seek to establish regular, ongoing relationships to provide freshly pumped milk.

RELATED: Sorry, But I Don't Want Your Donor Breast Milk

A popular money blog geared towards mothers, The Penny Hoarder, even posted two days ago that women should consider selling their breast milk online as a way to make money—around $60 a day—which if you're feeding a baby non-stop all day anyways, might just start to sound tempting. And unfortunately, using an official milk bank will only garner about a $1 per ounce for a seller, so technically speaking, it's more profitable to sell directly.

Of course, it's not as easy as pumping your milk and sticking it in the mailbox. There are rules, governed by each site, about how to screen donors and handle the breast milk. Only The Breast has a disclaimer assuring us that "most members" of the community are honest and just wanting to help out babies in need. But in the end, there's no one making sure that the mom who says she is properly storing her milk is actually doing it—it's all up to to whoever is purchasing the milk to determine how safe the milk really is.

Ultimately, there's absolutely nothing wrong with milk sharing, either online or peer-to-peer, as many moms choose to do. But I would like to see more protection for moms and their babies who are both donating and using breast milk sharing sites. Obviously, there's a huge need in our society for more options for breastfeeding babies and sites like these are proof that we have to work better to make sure that all families who want to use breast milk for their babies can do so safely and affordably.

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