Modern Day Wet Nursing: Should We Judge Moms Who Buy Breastmilk Online?

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I was one of those lucky mothers. Well, I was lucky once I figured out how to deal with, pump, and then store my oversupply of milk. At first I felt truly cursed, as I had enough breastmilk for triplets, a letdown strong enough to hit a target across the room. I would wake up after two hours of sleep feeling as if I had boulders attached to my chest. Once my baby started sleeping through the night, I still had to wake up and pump or risk clogged ducts and intense pain come morning. But it never crossed my mind to sell my breast milk online. I did, however, donate my breastmilk.

As you might have seen trending and on morning news shows today, 70% of breastmilk purchased online has been found to be contaminated.

Upon reading the NY Times article and another one on The Columbus Dispatch, I found myself near-gagging when I read how some of the purchased breastmilk samples arrived:

It arrived in all sorts of ways — sometimes warm, sometimes leaking, sometimes in used formula bottles.

This is not how breastmilk sharing is supposed to be. Real breastmilk donation, done through a legitimate milk bank involves screening processes, specific instructions for transport and amounts of donation, and a testing and pasteurization of the milk before the baby receives the donation. Mothers who donate an oversupply through legitimate milk banks legitimately donate, no funds change hands. It's a modern day version of wet nursing, which seemingly people have never heard as reactions to these articles on Twitter are... kind of ridiculous.

Modern Day Wet Nursing: Should We Judge Moms Who Buy Breastmilk Online?
Credit: crimfants.

This question, being asked in all kinds of honest, sarcastic, sincere, and rude/sexual ways online today with the release of the study, shows that many people don't quite grasp a few things about motherhood/parenthood, pregnancy, babies, and the big push for breastfeeding. Who might purchase breastmilk and/or use donated breastmilk? Babies in the NICU who are fighting for their lives, babies of mothers who became sick immediately after birth, mothers with legitimate breastfeeding issues, adoptive and mothers/parents/fathers via surrogacy... and on and on and on. The response of "OMG WHO WOULD DO THAT" also shows that people have a general lack of knowledge about breastfeeding in general, as the history of breastfeeding in and of itself is based in the concept of milk-sharing.

Beyond a lack of understanding, there's an obvious lack of empathy for mothers who have made an online breastmilk purchase.

Though there are those who acknowledge that a mom resorting to purchasing milk via the Internet are most likely the ones in need of the most support:

Because your Average Jane Mom? If she finds struggle in breastfeeding, she's not going to think of using donated breastmilk. She's not the one, when she finds out that milk banks are few and far between, who will turn to the "black market of breast milk" and make a purchase from mothers selling their own supplies online. The moms who are making these purchase are the ones up against the bigger trials: a baby in the NICU, a huge supply issue, and so on. They're the ones who need support from others, mothers especially. They're the ones who need to be told, "This will be okay. You will make it through this dark time."

Instead, we've thrown them under the bus all over social media and news stories today. My heart goes out to those moms who, when it all shakes out, just want to do what they have been told, time and time again, is best for their babies. In essence, we have created this monster by villainizing formula feeding to the point that mothers with legitimate supply issues or sick babies are so scared to use it that they resort to the less than perfect answer of buying breastmilk online. We have to find a happy medium, where we encourage breastfeeding but acknowledge that formula makes sense and is safe in certain situations. We cannot continue to scare moms so badly that they feel like they are failures if they don't "succeed" at breastfeeding.

If you are interested in helping out mothers and babies in safe, controlled ways, I advise you to check out the Human Milk Banking Association of North America as they screen donors as well as put the milk through testing for contamination and a pasteurization process. Milk is always needed, so don't let the recent news of contaminated milk keep you from donating or requesting milk through your doctor or hospital if you and your baby are in need.

Did you ever donate milk? Would you accept donated milk? Would you buy it online?


Family/Moms & Events Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog.


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