Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lawmaker Calls for Ban on Selling Breast Milk

Last fall, Channel 3 News out of Memphis, TN ran an investigative journalism piece on women who buy and sell breast milk online. Their "investigation" uncovered what most of us already knew exists: a marketplace online, on various forums, where women post about their need to purchase breast milk and moms with a healthy supply offer up their extra for sale. It's been going on for quite a while, and will continue to go on because there are a lot of women who don't believe formula is a safe alternative to breast milk who either can't breastfeed or don't make enough to meet their baby's needs.

A local Memphis lawmaker named Joe Towns, Jr. got wind of the story and has proposed a ban on selling breast milk online. In one of the most ironic statements ever, he declared selling breast milk to be "purely profit driven," and that "we should never place profit over the health concerns of infants." Maybe he should spend a while reading about the marketing tactics the formula companies use if he wants to talk about placing profit over the health concerns of infants.


Despite how you may feel about buying and selling breast milk online (I personally wouldn't do it, and this practice is discouraged by La Leche League), I don't think it's "purely profit driven" for the women involved. I think moms who sell their breast milk online feel a kinship with other women who want to breastfeed and for whatever reason can't supply their babies with all of the milk they need. The sense I've always gotten is that these women feel they are doing a favor for a friend, not creating a business enterprise. Besides, no one online is selling her breast milk at the same cost as the for-profit companies like Prolacta, who charge $3 per ounce for breast milk.

I think Rep. Towns could better use his muscle to help create milk banks in Tennessee, so that women whose babies need breast milk have a safe way to obtain it. If there were more human milk banks that were fully stocked with screened milk, moms wouldn't have to risk their baby's health by buying it online from virtual strangers. He, like many people, seems to be bothered by the "ick" factor of sharing human milk, rather than considering how breast milk is the normal food for infants and is life-saving in many cases. Women who can't breastfeed should have real options and be able to make an informed choice on whether or not they want to use formula. Right now, the only thing women who've educated themselves about the potential dangers of formula can do is buy breast milk online from women they don't know. And that is a problem.

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