Reply All: #57 Milk Wanted
March 10, 2016 7:23 PM - Subscribe

Reply All Producer Phia Bennin wades into the world of breast milk markets, and discovers a breast milk paradise, shady breastmilk scammers, and the surprising history of breast milk in the United States.
posted by radioamy (11 comments total)
It seemed a little contradictory that they kept talking about how "no market exists to facilitate this trade" and yet there are milk banks and the Ambrosia Milk guy. It seems to me like there *is* a market, and the main subject is just not participating in it.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:11 AM on March 11, 2016

As someone who helped his partner through two infant feeding/pumping/storing/freezing/bottling experiences, this dredged up a surprising amount of feels for me. We went through the "oh God, is this going to work?" thing with trying to get the first one to eat enough, and then also once dropped a bottle of milk at a friend's house because she was losing her mind trying to get her kid fed.

The history of wet nurses was interesting, I've often heard that term in a historical context but didn't really think about how it must have worked.
posted by selfnoise at 8:47 AM on March 11, 2016

It seemed a little contradictory that they kept talking about how "no market exists to facilitate this trade" and yet there are milk banks and the Ambrosia Milk guy. It seems to me like there *is* a market, and the main subject is just not participating in it.

Well, compared to the market size for ridiculous baby things, necessary baby things, and contentious baby things (Diaper genies are the cat declawing of mommy forums), the market for breast milk seems ridiculously small and is definitely not filling the demand. It really does seem like a tricky infrastructure to set up in the US, since you'd have to educate the new moms before they really know if they can produce, compensate them enough to make it worth their while, and have a distribution network set up to allow for drop off and pick up with a low risk of contamination before they get to the testing facilities. Even getting past the American taboo of selling breast milk, it seems like a difficult business to start.

(Honestly, the thing that surprised me the most about this story is that there aren't more FDA crackdowns of these Facebook groups for untested milk - my guess is that it's because these are technically individual small batch producers who aren't selling it.)

Also, I might have also been party to some vegans that were really excited when their friend was overproducing breast milk, because animal products given with consent were okay in their books. I did not partake in the resulting breast milk white russians.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:35 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think I'm still screaming internally at the idea you can assess HIV or hepatitis risk just by meeting someone. Like, I get that it went to emphasising her desperation for milk, but I don't know what that could mean that isn't some shade of gross.
posted by carbide at 1:19 PM on March 11, 2016

carbide - I took it as not that she was trying to size up if someone had a communicable disease, but whether they were an honest person or not who would hide that disease from her.
posted by radioamy at 1:47 PM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I wonder if you'd run into FDA regulations about compensating the donors. The FDA basically prohibits paying blood donors because they are afraid that people who should self-screen (people with blood-borne diseases, etc.) would be too tempted and lie during the screening.
posted by radioamy at 1:49 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, that's really what's getting me about the lack of FDA rules and testing thing - this is so much more dangerous than drinking untested cow milk (since there are a lot more diseases than can pass from human to human based on body fluids than from cow to human), and there's no real way for an individual to know if the milk is safe. Especially if you're asking someone to do this for free, you don't really have the sort of leverage to ask them to get proof that they don't have anything or aren't on anything, and an individual isn't going to be able to run over to the local lab and pay for them to test a portion of it.

The idea of assessing HIV or hepatitis risk by a handshake is extremely gross and racist and classist (and obviously inaccurate). But on the other hand, it's the only form of assessment available.

It's the sort of thing that really makes me hope that Ambrosia Milk's model works out. Yes, it's exploiting overseas markets for cheap labor, but a) what US food source isn't exploiting cheap labor, and b) it seems a lot better for the producers and safer for the babies than the alternative.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:52 PM on March 11, 2016

I am very close to this topic, I'm not a parent but my job is very often in support of breastfeeding families and I've seen many many different experiences play out. One of the very first statements made in the episode was that breast milk is "something that comes out of your body for free" - this is a widely held assumption and only true if you believe that a woman's time and energy has no value. It's like saying oil is something free in the earth.
posted by palegirl at 8:35 AM on March 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I'm about to have a baby and the idea of adding more logistics to such a stressful process is not appealing to me, even should I be lucky enough to have extra milk. No mention of the fact that Brazil has actual maternity leave, either.
posted by chaiminda at 7:01 AM on March 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Great podcast, as always. I wish they'd talked more about the context though, in particular how many infants need breast milk because they can't tolerate formula. Is that common?

I don't know nothin' about babies, so I had to look this stuff up. Infants need roughly 25oz of milk a day. At $4/oz that's $100 a day just to feed a baby! Only the Breast is about $2/oz. Formula is roughly $0.10/oz, or literally 3% the cost of official milk bank milk.
posted by Nelson at 9:49 AM on March 16, 2016

Was so relieved when they went into the history of wet nurses. Initially I worried that wouldn't be part of the story.
posted by CMcG at 6:09 PM on March 18, 2016

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