Women in the UK and U.S are selling their breast milk online, despite serious concerns that it could be harmful for babies. Mothers are using community forums, including Facebook, to make some quick cash out of their extra milk. Buying breast milk is tempting to new parents struggling to express their own, as it provides babies with better protection against illnesses and allergies compared to formula.
Theme-oriented websites appear to answer this need, saying: 'Our discrete breastfeeding breast milk classified system makes it possible to sell or buy breast milk in a clean, private way.' Donor mothers list their milk under the age of their baby and if they can provide fresh milk on demand.
A search around the site reveals women from UK and U.S. are offering it either fresh or frozen for around £1 per fluid ounce, while $2 (N310,52) per ounce is the standard rate in the U.S.
Websites' owners say: 'Many mothers are looking to buy breast milk online, because it is not available through their hospital or breast milk bank.'
Mothers can donate and receive breast milk for free via milk banks. These centres store breast milk for babies whose mothers can't breastfeed. However, they give priority to babies who are sick.
The banks collect expressed milk from pre-screened mothers who have a plentiful supply and a baby under six-months old. It is then pasteurised before it is offered to nearby hospitals.
But today doctors in Germany warned new parents against privately obtaining their baby's food through social networks such as Facebook. The Professional Association of Pediatricians said that although breast-feeding is generally the best option for newborns, mothers unable to breastfeed should not turn to the Internet.
'Donors can be taking medicines or drugs, have infectious illnesses like AIDS or Hepatitis,' Wolfram Hartmann, president of the association, said. 'Nobody can check whether the unknown mother's milk is harmless for the particular child,' he warned, adding that the milk's quality could also be affected during its transportation.
A newborn's nutritional needs differ from those of a baby even of several weeks or months old.
'The milk of a woman who already has an older child does not contain the right nutrient composition for a newborn,' researchers say.
Women who were unable to breastfeed should use special powdered milk.
Professor Mitch Blair, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: 'We encourage women to breastfeed where possible – as it can have real health benefits for both mother and child.
'For mothers who are unable to breastfeed, but want to give their children breast milk, the NHS breast milk bank provides a safe outlet for them to do so.
'We would strongly recommend using these official NHS milk banks rather than buying breast milk from other sources over the internet.
'It’s crucial that the milk is checked thoroughly for substances that could be harmful to the baby, that it is pasteurised properly and that it is transported safely - and only through official milk banks can we be sure that’s the case.'
Selling breast milk also throws up ethical questions, as one mother found out when she expressed an interest in selling hers via the Internet. One member asked why she wouldn't donate something that was 'free to make', while another responded: 'I can not believe someone would want to profit from a mother & baby's misfortune.'
Have you heard of such Internet practice in Nigeria? Doctors' concerns seem to be well-grounded...