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Blood, milk and profits 

Image credit: sweetbeetandgreenbean in flickr


We all need it.

Most of us make enough of it and don't lose too much of it.

But some people will need donated blood due to medical conditions, accidents or surgery.

Breast Milk

Babies need it.

Most women make enough of it to satisfy their baby's needs.

But some people will need to feed their babies artificial baby milk (also known as infant formula) due to medical conditions, adoption, or unresolved difficulties with breastfeeding.


Why is it that governments and health care providers make donor blood a priority, but don't make donor milk a priority? Why is it that despite the existence of artificial blood products, we have intricate and complex systems set up to collect and screen donor blood from other human beings to provide to those in need. Why is it that despite the opportunity to set up similar systems to collect and screen donor milk we settle for giving our babies artificial milk products?

I don't know.

Some have said that fake blood could be more convenient, more practical than human blood:
Artificial blood may be the most anxiously awaited liquid of all time. Why? You don't have to refrigerate manufactured blood (like human blood) to keep it fresh. Fake blood can be stored at room temperature and dispensed in ambulances, rescue helicopters, even on battlefields.

Sure, there are risks to fake blood and it will never be the same as real blood. But there are also risks to fake baby milk and that doesn't stop us from using it.

So why? Why do we line up to donate blood? Why does the government and the health care system put such great emphasis on the need to collect donor blood? Why do they call people at home and remind them of how much their blood is needed? Why do they take out full page ads in the newspaper reminding people of how much their blood is needed? I mean fake blood could be almost as good. Why not focus on that? Put some more research into it? It could be good for the economy. The companies that produce fake blood products would create jobs.

But breast milk? In Canada, there is one lone milk bank in Vancouver. Women across the rest of the country have a horrible time finding a way to donate if they want to. In the United States there are more milk banks than in Canada, but most of them are small and are very limited in terms of who they can provide milk to and how much they can provide.

Liquid gold

When I asked people on twitter if they had ever donated their milk, a lot of people said yes. Some of them had donated to milk banks. Some of them in private donations. Some said they hadn't, but wished they could. But when I asked them if they had ever or would ever sell  their breast milk, most of them said no. They said they would just be happy to be able to help another family give their baby the best. That is altruistic and wonderful and in a private mom-to-mom donation (that doesn't have the benefits of screening) you can get that warm and fuzzy feeling from having done a good deed.

But if you are donating to a milk bank, you might...um...be being milked for profits, literally. Prolacta, for example, and the related International Breastmilk Project, take donations of breastmilk from women, a small portion of which is sent to orphans in Africa and the majority of which is sold at the hefty price of $35 per ounce (Read Hoyden About Town's post on the IBMP-Prolacta partnership and check out the various links too). I've heard breast milk called liquid gold before and this just confirms it.

Sure, there is a cost to collect and process the milk. But let's be clear here. The women that donate the milk get no compensation for doing so. Prolacta on the other hand makes a profit selling the breast milk at $35 per ounce.

But why shouldn't we profit from our bodily fluids?

When I was in university I spent some time on an exchange program in Germany. While I had money to cover my basic living costs, it didn't always stretch far enough to pay for my weekly rations of German beer and chocolate. So I did what any other smart and frugal student would do. As often as allowed, I brought some of my reading material with me and plunked my rear end down in the waiting room at the University Health Centre to donate blood or plasma. The wait was often long, but so were the articles I had to read, and I walked out of there with a somewhere between $50 and $80 dollars. Not bad.

Back in Canada, Canadian Blood Services expects me to take time out of my busy day to give a pint of blood in return for a few stale cookies and a glass of juice. I do it. I do it because I know that they need the blood. Canadian Blood Services is a not-for-profit organization that provides blood to Canada's public health system, so I feel okay about giving the blood for free. But would I make a bigger effort to get back for my next donation as quickly as possible if I was being paid for it? Perhaps. But more importantly, for people that have a true financial need, the opportunity to be paid $50 for a pint of their blood could really take some pressure off of the pocket book. Perhaps Canadian Blood Services could also save some money in advertising and recruiting people if they paid people for their blood, because they would come willingly.

What about breast milk? There are a lot of families with babies that are strapped for cash. In Canada, it isn't that bad for most people due to our maternity leave system.  But in the United States a lot of women have to go back to work a mere six weeks after giving birth because they need the income. A lot of these women are in minimum wage jobs where it is difficult or impossible to pump at work, so they end up giving formula. This takes mothers often unwillingly away from their babies and forces them to pay for and feed their babies a product that is not as good as what their bodies would produce for free.

What if we paid these mothers for their breast milk? Imagine this. A mother that is earning minimum wage in the United States probably brings home about $250 per week (really rough estimate and average based on different rates for minimum wage and taxes). She is probably spending at least $40 per week on formula and then some money on commuting, work clothes, and so on. Perhaps she is lucky enough to have family members take care of the baby, otherwise the rest of her salary probably goes towards child care expenses. So she is making somewhere between $0 per week up to maybe a maximum of $175 per week to go to work and leave her six week old baby.

Now let's try a different scenario. Let's say she stays home and exclusively breastfeeds. Let's say she manages to pump an additional 5 ounces per day on top of what she is feeding to her baby. Let's say she provides that milk to a company, which pays her $4 per ounce (compared to the $35 per ounce it charges when it sells the milk). That would amount to a revenue for the mother of about $140 per week to stay at home with her baby. Some mothers might be able to make more and some would make less, but it is better than the absolute nothing they are getting now.

Not bad.

All of a sudden it would be financially feasible for more women, especially low income women, to stay home with their babies. All of a sudden, the availability of breast milk would increase for those that need or want it. All of a sudden, we have a system where mothers are being valued instead of being milked for profits. All of a sudden we have a system where nature's best is being valued and fewer women have to settle for artificial milk for their babies.

This is a financial model based on sustainability and opportunity rather than corporate profits. Let's make human milk banks a priority and let's not forget to compensate the supplier in the process.

What do you think? If you could sell your breast milk would you? Are you willing to donate breast milk for nothing and have it sold for $35 per ounce? What seems fair to you?

Note: I am aware that it is currently illegal to sell breastmilk and other bodily fluids in some jurisdictions. I am not advocating that people break the law. I am advocating systematic changes to the legal and health system that would make this possible.
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Reader Comments (58)

I only have a hand pump, and the best I've managed is a little over an ounce after 15min or so of pumping, but if I was a good expressor, I would love to donate to other babies, but that said- there are no milk banks in my state. I imagine there are provisions for shipping, but was shocked to learn that while milk banks exist, they are indeed few and very very far between.
The only problem I can potentially see with being paid for expressed milk is desperate women diluting it or mixing with cows milk to up their output if pumping at home. That, and underfeeding their infant in an attempt to pump just a little more.
But it is sad that women freely donate their milk and such unbelievale profits are made off its sale.

July 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterslee

My hesitation for paying for breastmilk are a few: one, is that we've done wetnursing before, where those who could afford it paid those who couldn't to nurse their babies for them: this might lead to just a more technologically advanced version of the same class disparity. Another is that blood and plasma are donated under supervision: there is no doubt that the blood being donated comes from a human. As slee just commented, the same wouldn't be true of a home-pumping situation.

I think the donation-leading-to-company-profit situation is evil, and should be criminal. But I'm not sure selling breastmilk is the right answer either.

July 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArwyn

Why do people settle for giving artificial milk products instead of insisting on donor milk? I can answer that question. It's because they might think that breastmilk is better but still continue to believe that formula is acceptable, normal...fine. The whole "breast is best" campaign managed to paint breastmilk as some kind of extra-credit unattainable ideal and actually reinforced formula as what the real moms feed their babies. Few people realize the flipside of breastfeeding having "benefits" is that formula carries risk.

July 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter@Artemnesia

Thank you so much for this article. Very thought provoking, and great analogy with the blood donations. Sure, one might argue that blood is currently screened, whereas breast milk is often private donations, but we COULD change that, given the chance. Doesn't every change have to start somewhere?

I wish I could have had access to donated breast milk when we were nursing. It would have prevented resorting to formula supplement while we were trying to fix latching and supply issues.

If I could donate breast milk (both through organism and through ample supply), I would. I wouldn't mind doing it for free, as long as it's to a non-for-profit that will also distribute for free, or for a reasonable cost. Otherwise, your $4 an ounce scenario would also make me happy.

I wonder, what exactly it would imply, to start such an non-for-profit...

July 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohanne

I wish I had an opportunity to donate milk.
I would definitely donate locally if someone I knew needed it.

July 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdesiree fawn

@slee: You are right. There are some potentials for abuse. I wonder if a supervised situation would be at all possible? It would be inconvenient for sure if you are trying to do it every day. Challenges!

@Arwyn: I talked about the supply side, but not about the demand side. You raise some good points. I guess I'd like to think that most people these days understand that a mom nursing her baby is the ideal and that donor milk is only the third best choice (with the mom pumping her own milk being second best and formula being fourth). Also, with blood, the rich don't necessarily have better access, at least not in countries like Germany where everyone has health insurance. So you get paid to donate blood or plasma, but it is then equitably distributed through the health system to those that need it.

July 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Very interesting, I had no idea these companies were profiting from donated breastmilk. If a profit is being made, I certainly think the donor should be compensated. I'm a nursing mom of twins, blessed with a very adequate supply and I've often thought about donating myself. The time required to track down a milk bank and jump through the hoops required to donate have kept me from doing so.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Interesting idea. Living in Vancouver, I sort of assumed that all Canada's urban centres had a milk bank. I had no idea it was so rare... A friend who adopted got milk from the Vancouver bank years ago. It was a big deal getting it shipped to her location but well worth it.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlexis

I do donate to an HMBANA bank (just like the one in Canada). I did extensive research into finding the right bank - one that was not linked to Prolacta. I am fortunate to get between 8 and 9 ounces in 5 minutes of pumping once a day, all of which is donated. Regardless of my ability, I would never sell my milk. Donation is a beautiful process and knowing how many hundreds or thousands of babies I can help is all the payment I need.

I went with HMBANA because they do not deny milk to those who can not afford it and their small fee of $3.50 an ounce (for those who can) covers the cost of shipping and milk processing. They offer the milk to NICUs, mothers who can not produce, adoptive families and more.

An interesting article on Breastfeeding Symbol's blog states that the cost Prolacta charges for their "Human Milk Fortifier" is much higher than stated here. The cost is $6.25/milliliter, or $184.83/ounce. The practices of Prolacta are questionable to me and I would never associate myself with any of the many "banks" associated with them. HMBANA banks are really the way to go.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCoco

I like this idea, Annie. Some kinks to work out, sure - like quality control mentioned above. But really, why not? Think of the overall savings in health care the system would earn, not to mention the potential financial benefit for mothers.

I've donated through http://milkshare.birthingforlife.com/ before, but I'm not sure that I would be comfortable being on the receiving end due to concerns about disease screening and quality. Setting up a formal system would resolve that problem.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

This is a great post, for a time I had a freezer full of expressed milk that I would happily have donated- but there's almost no-where to send it in the UK. As you have mentioned, if I was on the receiving end of the donation I would want very stringent checks on the milk sources, there are some foods etc that I just wouldn't want in my daughters milk. In the UK (I'm assuming there are similar in the US & Canada) we have mobile blood donation vehicles. This would be a great way that milk donation could be done in the same way. Perhaps donors could be vetted and registered before attending the mobile outlets. It really would be so beneficial for so many!

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie Sanders

Sure, I would donate for free. I'd love to see a system set up like for blood, where milk was tested and distributed to those in need (although I wonder if there would be an insistence that the milk be pasteurized... and therefore lose some of its benefit). If the milk bank was going to profit from my milk, yes, I'd like to be compensated for that.

Unfortunately, in a screened system, I might not be allowed to donate, for the same reason I can't donate blood - too much time spent in the UK during the Mad Cow years!

Of course, the main reason milk banks are not a priority is that the majority of babies receive formula in our society, and they're all "just fine". If it ain't broke...

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJuliette

I thought of another idea reading your post... why not set up a breatmilk intake center? You could bring your baby and yourself..sit down in a comfortable chair and pump the extra milk at the center. Just like donating blood at an intake center. Now THAT would be controlled!

Then the milk could be tested (just like donor blood) and processed.

Another anology is donating sperm and donating eggs. I've read that egg donors are EXTREMELY well compensated. I'm not sure of the level of compenstation for sperm but it must be worth it, too.

So if people are compensated for blood, sperm and eggs -- why not breastmilk, too?

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

@Coco: Yes, I was reading about their milk fortifier. Crazy!

@Alina: I think that would be ideal. The problem is that you only donate blood once every few months, so it is easy to get to a place to donate. But if you are wanting to pump a few ounces of breast milk every day, it may be touch especially with a newborn to get to the intake station.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

So wish Milkshare had existed ten years ago. During the nearly nine years I breastfed, I had oversupply. When my now-12 year old was born, I also had over-active let-down and had to pump prior to each feeding. All of my kids refused pumped milk (straight from the tap only) and I easily pumped 8 oz. in five minutes. When I contacted the HMBANA I was told they would not take my donated milk because I was on a medication - one not considered a risk for nurslings but the policy, I was told, was to refuse milk if the donor took *any* medication. So I poured literally gallons of breast milk down the drain.

I don't know what HMBANA policy is now but I am sure I could have found someone through Milkshare to whom I could have donated all that milk.

As for selling breastmilk, if it encouraged more women to make more milk and got more breast milk to more children, that would be great. However, I see the same risks as created by commercial wet nursing. Will very low income women sell milk that is needed by their own children? This is already happening in countries like China - poor children starve to feed breast milk to wealthier children. When an individual sells blood, sperm, or eggs, he or she puts only her own health at risk. Selling breast milk may be possible only if the donor's child does without.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJake Aryeh Marcus

The closest milk bank here is at least a 5 hour drive away and I know they charge moms outrageous prices ($3.50/ounce + shipping). I'd rather give it to someone closer and for free.

I had a friend who adopted an infant; when I look at how much milk I had in those first postpartum days I really regret not offering her any. I know a few moms in our area who pump for other babies.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTopHat

I think there's a big difference between blood and breast milk, and that is that a ready and easy substitute for breast milk does exist. No, it's not nearly as good, but it's much easier to come by. I could walk into any convenience store and buy some. So people who use donor milk right now either have babies who are hospitalized or are people who are willing to put in the effort and pay the price for it. If you don't have a lot of resources you're probably just going to buy formula at the nearest store if you 'need' it.

If you could allocate breast milk equally based on need it would be different. We would have to have a lot more donors before that could happen, though. And a much better system of distribution. As it sits right now, affluent people use donor milk and so if you pay women for it you run the risk of re-creating the old wet nursing system.

But I'm not particularly comfortable with the idea of paying for donor blood, either. I would rather that people donate blood because they choose to than feeling financially compelled. Perhaps it's that I'm Canadian and so I find the idea foreign and dismiss it out of hand, though.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

There are a lot of ethical issues w/ mothers being paid to donate their milk. I think that especially w/ lower income mothers, they would pump for profit and still end up giving their own babies watered down formula they get free from WIC. The money would end up being the ultimate goal, not helping babies get breastmilk.

With blood, you have to donate under very specific, sterile and safe conditions as it's not something you can "pump" yourself. There's not much room for abuse.

I think a better change would be to put value on mothers, babies and families, making it a real option for mothers to stay home and breastfeed, offer better support for breastfeeding mothers and have health insurance cover lactation support. Also, for mothers who do work, we need to make pumping at work acceptable and easy to do. But that would be a complete paradigm shift... I think we are on the way there, but it's still going to be a while. I'm not sure what the answer to this is, except for us to keep fighting for the rights of babies to be breastfed and waiting till the rest of the world comes around.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I came back because I had another thought.

I live in the Vancouver area, but I don't donate to the milk bank. One reason is that I haven't had much success with pumping. But the other reason is that after my breast pump died when my daughter was a toddler I didn't replace it. I don't feel I need one, since I'm on maternity leave for the full first year anyway. The idea of buying a breast pump solely for donating, especially given my difficulties with pumping, was an obstacle.

A variation on your idea would be to at least provide donors with supplies. Pay for a good breast pump, buy gas that they use to drive to the milk bank, that sort of thing. At minimum it would reduce the barrier to being a donor.

For the record I agree that we need more donors. I'm more than a little jealous that babies in some NICUs here in BC are supplemented with human milk but my daughter was given formula. If I'd had the option I would have used it. I'm just not completely certain what the best way to get more donors is.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

@Julie: I agree that we need to fight for all of the things you mentioned in your last paragraph too. But even if we do that, there are still going to be some babies that need donated milk and I don't think it is out of the question to compensate the women that provide that milk. I also agree that having some sort of controlled environment would be ideal (as I mentioned in other comments), but I am not willing to accept a generalization that low income women are more likely to cheat to get money.

@Amber: I think if donor blood weren't so readily available, then we would be much further ahead in terms of "perfecting" fake blood in the same way that formula companies have been trying to "perfect" infant formula.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Interesting post, Annie! I never even thought about something like this. What a great idea this would be for women who wanted to give their babies breastmilk, but can't breastfeed for whatever reason. Great idea! It should be done! Why not?

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLoukia

@Amber: I think some of the milk banks in the US do provide a pump. Not sure if it is just the ones that are milking the moms for profits though. Maybe someone else here knows??

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I didn't want to make a generalization, sorry, I guess that came across wrong. I do know that some mothers DO water down formula that they get from WIC to stretch it more (and even mothers who do not get formula from WIC water it down to stretch it a little). I suspect that the same thing could happen to any income bracket. I really think it would be very difficult to make sure that all the babies who need the milk (the babies of the breastfeeding mothers) first and foremost, get the milk. I am not a low income mother, but it would be extremely tempting for me (as a stay at home mom) to pump for a little extra money... and think of how you could get more milk... taking herbs, etc. I really don't know how this could be regulated to be fair and I don't know what a "controlled environment" would be for a pumping mother???

And let's not forget the reality that just about all mothers can make enough milk for their babies. They fail b/c they do not get the proper support, information and education.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Assuming that the base costs would be carried on, where would you find the avg mom who could afford to pay $120/day to feed her infant? To model it on the blood donation is a false assumption, as the quantities needed are much higher and the costs are daily and ongoing. If you assume the costs of formula are detrimental, this is even more so.

Off topic, but I really wish people would stop calling formula artificial baby milk. It's not cited that way in the WHO documents, so I don't see the need to expound on the "artificial" angle except to beef up the semantics.

July 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGayle

gayle- how does the WHO refer to formula? yes, it's about semantics, but you know, words have power and "formula", to me, sounds like something scientific, which certainly artificial baby milk is a product of science, but in our western culture science is often heralded as more "real" or better then nature and calling milk that isn't mothers milk "formula" seems like a formula companies/advertizers semantic tactic to get people to feel like formula is a safe and superior product to what occurs naturally, being breastmilk.

back to the original topic. i would donate and or sell my milk but i take medications that aren't in "category a" for breastfeeding according to PDRs. if a friend needed milk id give it to her baby and be completely translucent about my diet, meds, habits ect.

July 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteremily

[...] Blood, milk and profits | PhD in Parenting [...]

Thanks for your post.

I've become increasingly convinced that Prolacta's line in milk-for-profit is, in itself, another front for its primary business: patenting the components of mother's milk. This has been in the wind from the start, as they were a venture capitalist startup like any other speculative pharmaceutical company.

All donors to Prolacta and the International Breastmilk Project sign a fine-print saying that their milk might not go to babies, it might go straight to the research lab. Last I looked, this was at the bottom of I think page four of a long form. This is sold as "Super! Breastfeeding research!" without any focus on the intellectual property claim side of things.

No matter how good their press and how many milky-softfocus ads their collection agencies put out and how many fake "non-profits" they set up at the front end and how many heartstrings they pull, I don't think they're ultimately committed to the business of getting human milk to human babies. I've been deeply suspicious of bio-patenting from its inception, and we've already seen the horrendous fallout in gene patenting with the breast cancer gene testing and so forth. I think Prolacta is trying to be just more of the same, staking out their property claim over our genomes and our milk.

July 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlauredhel

Hmmm. I don't think this is solving the biggest problem here - the appalling maternity leave provisions in the US. I have to say that if I were a mother in the situation you've described, well, staying home and pumping my own breastmilk might well be an improvement, but I would find it such a high-pressure situation that even if I managed it, I wouldn't relax for the whole of the first year. You know what a pain pumping can be, and what it's like worrying over whether you'll produce enough for your baby - can you imagine knowing that if you don't pump enough it will also affect your family's ability to pay the rent or to buy food for the other family members?? And, without proper maternity leave, what do women do when they do have to stop pumping and get back to work, given that their job won't be waiting for them any more? I'm concerned that you're presenting this as a nice warm cosy look-how-much-better-this-is alternative, when, in actual fact, all it would really do would be to give women an alternative that would *still* be lousy and stressful and far from ideal, when what women really need in that situation is decent maternity pay and leave policies, which I know you support but which you've completely overlooked here.

July 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah V.

@Gayle: As I said in the other comments, I wasn't proposing that people pay $120 to feed their baby. Rather, the milk could be distributed through the health care system in the same way that blood is. In Germany, where I donated blood and was paid for it, the people that received the blood didn't have to pay the rate that I was paid or more. They received it as part of their health care.

@Sarah V. Absolutely the United States needs better mat leave policies. But even then, earning a bit on the side by pumping could help. In Canada, you get a maximum of 55% of your salary (unless your employer tops it up, which most don't). For someone that is barely managing to squeeze by while working, the 55% might not be enough. I agree though that it could create stress for some women, but perhaps less stress than being forced to go back to work early.

July 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

@Julie: Absolutely. The lack of support is the biggest factor. I've addressed that at length in other posts, like http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/11/01/what-does-support-look-like/" rel="nofollow">What does support look like? and http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/05/14/when-it-is-not-breast/" rel="nofollow">When it is not breast, among others.

July 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Emily -- WHO refers to infant formula under the broad category of breastmilk substitutes. These substitutes include infant formula, homemade formula and animal products. I understand the reason behind it, but the users of this label also must understand that the people who are most sensitive to it are those who do want to provide breastmilk to their child. I haven't met one mom who chose to ff who cares about whatever people call it, but a lot of moms who were unable to breastfeed for whatever reason are upset by the term. It's kind of like having your friends rant about how bad something is and then when you fess up to doing it, everyone reassures you that's "not what they really meant." But it is and it isolates those who really need support.

phd -- I understand that you were assuming it to be part of the health care system, but as I mentioned the volume and frequency of it compared to blood is much larger, which would make the cost more onerous. In a universal care model like Canada has, it wouldn't be feasible. In a paid-for care model like the U.S. has it, like many other health care c hoices, would be part of a (minimum) two-tiered system.

July 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGayle

@Gayle: I realize it would be difficult to implement in a public health care system. However, I think if infant feeding were made a priority in general and if an initiative like this was coupled with other much needed initiatives (better breastfeeding education for pediatricians, easier access to lactation consultants, etc., etc., etc.) then perhaps the number of people that need donated milk would be decreased.

July 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

phd -- I totally agree on the need for some heavy lifting in terms of support and education. I guess the starting point for this would be determining the actual need, as I believe a good portion of families who use formula would not see this as a personal need.

July 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGayle

phd - you asked about pump policies. I can only speak to HMBANA banks. If you are near the bank, they will provide one for you in most cases. The National Milk Bank provides one, but they are a non-profit front working with Prolacta. Most of those who provide a pump not based at a hospital are like that.

The problem with providing pumps, supplies, etc. is that it increases the overhead cost for the non-profit milk bank. Any organization needs funds to survive. HMBANA banks still provide milk if it can not be paid for. Some insurances will cover it (just like they will prescription formulas). Perhaps the need exists for better funding and fund raising for true non-profits so that they may help more people at a lower cost. But rarely is the first thought for monetary donations to be made to a milk bank... people see the regulars: cancer, AIDS, other organizations helping children, etc.

July 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCoco

Hey, this is what Moses' mom did in the really old days, no? Sure, that one was her own child, but back then, many poor women, and sometimes women who wanted to help the less fortunate, nursed others' babies.

I'm thinking it's best for babies to get the milk straight from the source and for the donors to give it directly rather than use a pump, so why not do the olden-days thing and have a direct nursing arrangement for some (additional) income.

Never a dull moment around this blog, is there?

July 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFamily Matters

@Family Matters: Wet nursing may be an option for some. However, it doesn't have the benefits of screening that is available if the milk is donated to a milk bank. Also, it obviously requires close proximity between the donor and recipient. Donor milk is often given to babies that are not able to or have not been taught to latch, so that adds another complication too.

July 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I also donated my breastmilk through MilkShare. I'm still on the list, but I'm having a hard time pumping, so I'm not sure if I'd be able to donate again.
If I could be paid for it--not from the family but through a health care system, as you proposed--it would definitely help with me being a WAHM.
However, I wouldn't do it unless there was a good system in place, ensuring that those who need it get it at an affordable rate, cheaper than formula.
On MilkShare, those who donate also give up their medical records freely. Many donate long-term to the same family. And those on the list are incredibly thankful. It's inspiring to read the stories.

In odd news, did you ever hear about the Swiss chef who was to cook with breastmilk? He was also going to pay for the milk, though it was a pittance compared to what milk banks sell it for.
Check it out here:

July 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCate

[...] Read the rest here: Blood, milk and profits | PhD in Parenting [...]

As a breast feeding momma, and a person who works for CBS I have recently thought of the possibility of CBS taking on the breast milk portfolio, especially now that we're quite stringent at screening the blood supply (and I would assume just as good with breast milk?).

Firstly, it's a beautiful thing to see just how dedicated our donors are to the cause even though it's probably annoying to get calls every 56 days to come in and donate, and more often if you don't. Then there is the cookies and peach juice and 7-up mixture (at least our donors seem to think it's the best thing since sliced bread) and coming in to "feel good" about doing something. I'm not sure that money would continue to foster those feel-good feelings, and we may get people coming in for that sole reason. However, maybe we could increase our donor base? Make the feel-good feeling a little more good? They do test the blood, so even if people were lying during their high risk questions at least they would be screened out with positive HIV/hepatitis or WNV (West Nile Virus). Hopefully. I think the important thing to remember is that the recipient needs to be assured that the supply is safe.

From the screening side of things, I think some individuals would be more apt to not disclose their medications, which are not tested for. This could get tricky... especially since there is a book of medications that you can't donate on, never mind the disease and illnesses!

So, then you turn to the breast milk side of things and you see where the issues come in - you would have to have some pretty safe supply. I'm sure that most donors of breast milk would be able to stay off of certain medications and other toxins to make their donation. Maybe CBS should expand it's portfolio?

Just for an informational note... CBS has been looking at expanding into organs. I think this change will be coming later as opposed to sooner, but it's done well with the blood supply since the Kreiver Inquiry and continues to move forward in that practice.

Who knows? All I know is, I was pumping off my breasts while on a two day mobile clinic without access to cooler packs, and I really wished I could just sit in a relaxing chair with double electric pumps and a nice cool peach and 7up to sip just like our donors get :).

Thanks for the blog post, I'm a new reader and I think I'll continue :)

July 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKnotty

Just a note to add to Knotty's post > If breastmilk from HIV positive mothers can be made safe for their babies to drink, then I would hazard a guess and say the possibility of CBS expanding into milk donation wouldn't be a ridiculous idea, nor an entirely impossible one.

July 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

Many many kinks to work out but a stellar idea at any rate. Worthy to approach Health Canada with?

July 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

I think that the voice missing here is the voice of low-income women. I am simultaneously a low-income mother, university educated in Women's studies, and a very prolific breastmilk producer. What is being ignored here is the very large group of Mother's who turn to the sex trade to support their children. Being a wet-nurse would be a vast improvement over this situation. What has been addresses by phd is the disdain expressed at low-income women by the perennial cries of "but they'll cheat!", This is classist and racist and really not cool. Low income women are just as concerned about the welfare of their children and other children as women of higher income. They are not the problem, their income is. If they were to switch places with higher income women, I think that you would find the high-income women would not be as resourceful and as dedicated to doing whatever it takes to do the best for their children.
However, I believe in the ability of women to work together. In a co-housing situuation, women could easily spell each other off as care-givers, including sharing the nursing of their children. Adding the child of a high-income family to such an arrangement would provide funds to the lower-income women and proper care and feeding to the higher income child.
I also believe that families could link and create arrangements. A donor could be screened and compensated much like nannies are. There are many ways of being creative. The main thing is, have we asked the low-income women what they think?

This one thinks: I'd rather sell my milk than my ass!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCassaundra

[...] resources were put towards human milk banks to increase access to breast milk for those that cannot breastfeed or do not make enough [...]

How do you think the blood industry works? Blood donation at the Red Cross translates into big profits for companies like Baxter. This type of model allows for safety measures and quality in processing life saving therapies - you really think the Red Cross just provides all that donated blood for free???

August 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLoren

@Loren: No, I didn't say that I think the Red Cross provides all that donated blood for free. I said that I think the supplier of bodily fluids (be it blood or milk), i.e. the human, should be compensated. And I said that I think it should be equitably distributed through the health care system to those that need it. I'm okay with everyone making a little profit along the way. But I'm not okay with people being milked for profits and not getting anything in return.

August 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] banks not a priority: As I explained in my post on blood, milk and profits, there is an entire industry and infrastructure set up to collect, screen, and distribute blood to [...]

@Laurie Sanders There is a whole system of milk banks in the UK that would happily accept donations. http://www.ukamb.org/yourmilkbank.html
Some of the sites even do home pick-up.

September 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStumptownMom

[...] Instead of focusing on getting infant formula to developing countries, perhaps we should focus on getting human milk banks established and getting more breast pumps to those [...]

I just came across your site and this article. Thank you for posting! I totally agree with what you are suggesting and would like to help you promote the the systemic change needed. I'm a writer too, and a musician in Austin, Texas. I'm working with a group of women to put together a children's album and we intend to donate a large part of the profits to Mother's Milk Bank. Album is due out mid-May - in time for Mother's Day. You inspire me to create some additional promotional messages about how we could transform lives, enable mothers to stay at home, etc. if we started compensating for milk donations. Great stuff.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMonica Cravotta

[...] There is a very small percentage of moms who are physically unable to breastfeed and they are lucky to have formula as an alternative. But I wish they had other options. I wish that human milk banks were more common. There are major institutions set up to collect, screen and distribute donated blood to those that need it, why...? [...]

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