There's a shady market for breast milk in the US where parents risk buying contaminated milk

  • Breast milk is a huge commodity for parents who cannot breastfeed.
  • Only an estimated 26% of North Americans exclusively breastfed. The rest have to rely on formula, which isn’t the healthiest option for babies, or find a milk bank that sells human breast milk.
  • This forces parents to turn to online markets to buy their breast milk, which may not always be 100% human.

Following is a transcript of the video:

Brazil takes breast milk very seriously. It has over 200 milk banks nationwide, the highest of any country. But here’s the weird part, while the US has over one and a half times the population of Brazil, it only has 24 milk banks, which distribute less than six million ounces of breast milk a year. And that’s a serious problem, since intensive care units alone demand over 63 million ounces annually, so parents of healthy babies need to find another way to feed their kids and will turn to other, more obscure sources.

Of course, many parents have a built-in supply of breast milk, free of charge. But not everyone can breastfeed. This might be because they don’t produce enough on their own, their work schedule leaves little time for breastfeeding, or they simply don’t have breasts in the first place. In fact, only an estimated 26% on North Americans exclusively breastfed. So if you’re short on breast milk, many parents will head to groups like Human Milk 4 Human Babies, which connects milk donors with milk seekers. In this case, helping over 20,000 community members in 52 countries. But there’s still not enough milk to go around.

That’s where online marketplaces come in. On ad classified sites, like Only The Breast, and Breast Feeding Mums Unite, people sell their milk for around two dollars an ounce. That’s a bargain compared to over four dollars that milk banks will charge. But this is a case of you get what you pay for, because the milk you might receive, may not be 100% human. In a 2015 study, for example, researches ordered milk from an anonymous online market.

They tested the contents of each sample and discovered that one in every 10 samples was contaminated with cow’s milk, and by a significant amount too. The contaminated samples contained about 10% cow’s milk. That’s a lot more than a few drops. Moreover, a 2013 report found that 74% of milk from online markets contained harmful bacteria, which probably came from poor collection, storage, or shipping.

All this begs the question, why go through the hassle and risk, when you can easily grab some baby formula at your local grocery? Well, formula just doesn’t cut it. Human breast milk is jam-packed with brain developing nutrients, disease-fighting antibodies that jump-start the immune system, and helpful bacteria that rev up the babies own gut flora. But baby formula has no antibodies or bacteria and that can make a huge difference.

Researches calculated that over 800,000 formula-fed infants who die each year worldwide, could have been saved by breastfeeding. So parents are caught between a rock and a hard place. Formula or mystery milk? Fun fact, in Brazil, the government funds couriers on motorbikes to collect breast milk directly from people’s houses.

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