Bismarck woman sells breast milk against health department recommendations
Breanna Clemons had trouble breast-feeding her first child, but now with her second, she has milk to spare.
"I have so much milk," the 26-year-old said. "As we speak, I have over 200 bags."
With her surplus, Clemons, of Bismarck, has done what some other moms around the country have done: She's put her frozen breast milk up for sale on the Internet.
"If someone were to inquire, I would pump it and store it, so it would be as fresh as possible for them," she said.
The bags she uses hold 6 ounces, and she's asking $2 per ounce. But since posting an ad on Craigslist.org on Jan. 27, she hasn't had any takers.
Clemons -- who's married, works full-time and has a 3-month-old and a 4-year-old -- said she's not looking to just make money but wants to help moms who can't nurse and would like to give their babies breast milk.
"Sometimes babies can't drink formula. Sometimes their systems can't handle it," she said. "Sometimes they absolutely have to have breast milk."
Despite Clemons good intentions, health officials advise against feeding a baby breast milk that's not from his or her mother, unless the milk comes from the country's network of breast milk banks, known as the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA).
"We don't recommend casual sharing of milk from unscreened donors," said HMBANA president Jean Drulis.
Certain diseases and harmful substances can be transferred through breast milk. As a safeguard, HMBANA screens donors for HIV and hepatitis B and C; they also check for drug use, Drulis said.
Milk banks pool the milk of several donors, then to eradicate viruses and bacteria, they pasteurize the milk and test it to make sure the process worked, Drulis said.
Though Clemons is not taking all the steps milk banks do, she said she's willing to meet with potential customers, have them visit her home and let them review her medical records.
Got extra milk?
Similarly to HMBANA's president, Dee Grabanski, a lactation consultant at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, warns against using breast milk from sources other than milk banks.
"I certainly wouldn't do it," she said, citing concerns over not only diseases but the proper storage of milk and the cleanliness of breast milk pumps.
Grabanski suggests that moms with freezers full of leftover breast milk donate to milk banks. The ones closest to North Dakota are in Coralville, Iowa, and Denver.
When a mother with a premature baby is not able to produce milk, Altru uses breast milk from milk banks to feed the baby if the baby can't digest formula, Grabanski said.
HMBANA also sells breast milk to mothers who have doctors' orders. In most areas, the charge is $3.50 per ounce. Milk bank officials say the milk itself is free; the screening, pasteurizing and shipping are what costs money. In some cases, health-insurance plans will pay for breast milk.
Is it legal?
In North Dakota and many other states, the sale of breast milk is not regulated. But Kenan Bullinger, the head of the food and lodging division of the North Dakota Health Department, said the state advocates following the guidelines issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which recommend not using breast milk from an unscreened donor.
The feds have not outlawed selling or sharing breast milk, but California, New York and Maryland require that anyone providing breast milk to babies other than their own have a license, and that includes milk banks, said Pauline Sakamoto, executive director of the Mothers' Milk Bank in San Jose, Calif.
A search of Craigslist sites for North Dakota cities found that Clemons' ad was the only one for breast milk. She said she's heard of similar ads on eBay.
While it's unclear how often breast milk is shared or sold in the U.S., Sakamoto said the practices could have negative consequences for milk banks.
"If (casual sharing) is as prolific as what we think it is, it must be the reason why the milk banks are so low on milk," she said. "This year, I see that we're going to have some major difficulties in supplying hospitals because of this casual sharing stuff."